The Life and Loves of a She Devil

 It wouldn't be a feminist text if it didn't have phallic imagery  somewhere

It wouldn't be a feminist text if it didn't have phallic imagery somewhere

 
 
"Love, compared to hate, is a pallid emotion."

You may wonder what a feminist text in which not a single conventional addict appears is doing in a feature on addiction. But Fay Weldon's hilariously biting book is a perfect example of what happens when an ordinary person turns from the proverbial  light to the darkness, with delectably naughty results.

The Story

Large of stature and warty of face, clumsy Ruth is a devoted suburban housewife, married to successful accountant Bobbo, with whom she has two children. But Bobbo is in love with his client, the romance novelist Mary Fisher, who is as petite and lovely as Ruth is ungainly. When Bobbo leaves Ruth for Mary, Ruth plots one of the most elaborate revenges in history. She burns the house down, dumps the children (and pets) with their father and his mistress and disappears. Over the ensuing years, Ruth transforms on every level as she seeks to bring down the two people who caused her so much suffering. She breaks into Bobbo's office late at night so that she can embezzle money from his clients' accounts to the tune of millions of dollars. Assuming a series of fake identities, she sets up an employment agency so that she can place her workers in both Bobbo's and Mary's employment in order to keep tabs on them. Having set up Bobbo for fraud, she then joins the household of the judge who is trying him in order to make sure his sentence is the severest possible. With Bobbo in prison and Mary Fisher falling apart emotionally and financially, Ruth sees to it that a priest becomes a part of Mary's lonely life, and that the priest, himself corrupt and deceptive, finally manages to tip her over the edge emotionally. Ruth then takes all the money that she's embezzled and uses it to pull off the most dramatic plastic surgery ever attempted; becoming as petite and beautiful as Mary Fisher before buying her home and recreating her life with Bobbo, only this time with the reins of power firmly in her hands. 

Addiction in She Devil

As anyone who's ever been an addict or met one (in other words, all of us) would attest, addiction is driven by more base desires. Addiction is not noble or high- minded. It doesn't concern itself with the common good. It just wants what it wants, by any means necessary. And what better metaphor can there be than Ruth Patchett's singular determination to become fully godless, a complete she devil who is hell-bent on ruining the lives of those who have wronged her? And frankly, she makes it look like a whole lot more fun than the alternative. You'll root for Ruth far more than you will any of the 'necessary' casualties of her schemes. There's something woefully relatable in Ruth's observation of Mary Fisher's 'sorrow' as her fortunes change; "What she feels now is petulance. She is bothered by having too much of what she doesn't want-her mother and the two children- and not enough of what she does want- Bobbo, sex, adoration and entertainment." So often, what we condemn about addiction- the lack of responsibility, the greed, the selfishness- are those very things in ourselves that we struggle to control. Luckily for Ruth, as a newly-created she devil, she doesn't even have to struggle, because she gives zero fucks. She gives herself full permission to take what she wants, do what she wants and indulge herself whenever she damn well pleases. And if that isn't addiction in a nutshell, then I don't know what is. 

Read Next Article