The Life and Loves of a She-Devil

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The Life and Loves of a She-Devil
Author Fay Weldon
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Novel
Publisher Hodder & Stoughton
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)

The Life and Loves of a She-Devil is a 1983 novel by British feminist author Fay Weldon about a highly unattractive woman who goes to great lengths to take revenge on her husband and his attractive lover. The book, Weldon insists, is about envy, rather than revenge.


Ruth is an abnormally tall and ugly housewife whose husband, Bobbo, considers their relationship an open marriage based on convenience alone. Bobbo only truly loves his mistress, a famous, wealthy romance novelist named Mary Fisher. When Ruth passionately indicates her disapproval for Bobbo’s extramarital affair, he calls her a "she-devil", causing her to reassess her life. She resolves to behave in accordance with the label he has given her.

Bobbo leaves Ruth and their two children: he goes to live with Mary Fisher, to whom he soon proposes. Ruth plots her revenge on them, beginning by burning down her own house, therefore forcing the children to live with their father at Mary Fisher’s mansion. Ruth engages in a string of meaningless sexual relationships in order to emotionally detach herself from sex. In the meantime, she works at the retirement home which houses Mary’s mother, Pearl. Her actions there cause Pearl to be expelled from the home, thus inconveniencing Mary and Bobbo who must now care for her. At the same time, Bobbo believes that Ruth has disappeared and may be dead, as she has completely abandoned him and their children.

Ruth finds work at a psychiatric hospital while taking classes in accounting and bookkeeping. She uses this knowledge to discreetly steal money from Bobbo’s corporate clientele in a way that will incriminate Bobbo later on. Ruth starts her own employment agency for female secretaries, under the alias of "Vista Rose". Through her agency, she sends a secretary to Bobbo’s office who begins another affair with him. When the police arrive to arrest Bobbo, Ruth has made it appear as though he and the secretary were going to take the stolen money and leave the country, though Ruth is in possession of the money herself, becoming rich as a result.

Under a new alias, Ruth works as a nanny for the children of the judge who presides over Bobbo’s trial, sleeping with him and successfully persuading him to extend Bobbo’s prison sentence if he is convicted. Bobbo is found guilty and imprisoned. While a desperate Mary Fisher turns toward religion for guidance, Ruth manipulates the entire situation and continues to recreate herself with a variety of aliases and love affairs.

Ruth uses her money to change her lifestyle and appearance, undergoing a series of surgeries to completely restructure her body to be identical to Mary Fisher. Mary continues to love Bobbo and wastes away, developing cancer and ultimately dying, and her mansion is subsequently purchased by Ruth. Ruth now lives a life of wealth, extravagance, and control, claiming that she will sexually dominate Bobbo once she secures his release from prison, causing him the misery that he once caused her.


The novel was filmed twice and has been adapted for radio: in 1986 as an award-winning BBC television serial, starring Patricia Hodge as Mary Fisher, Dennis Waterman as Bobbo and Julie T. Wallace as Ruth, with only minor changes from the book; and – less faithfully – by Hollywood in 1989 as She-Devil, starring Roseanne Barr as the she-devil and Meryl Streep as her adversary, Mary Fisher.

The BBC adaptation was partly shot at the Belle Tout Lighthouse at Beachy Head near Eastbourne in East Sussex, which has since been moved several metres from the cliff edge, due to the rapid rate of coastal erosion in the area.

The BBC Radio 4 adaptation was broadcast as a Classic Serial on 21 and 28 February 2016, total duration 106 minutes.

  1986 mini-series 1989 movie 2016 radio adaptation
length 4 x 60 mins. 100 mins. 106 mins.
screenplay by Ted Whitehead Barry Strugatz Joy Wilkinson
directed by Philip Saville Susan Seidelman Abigail le Fleming
Ruth Julie T. Wallace Roseanne Barr
Bobbo / Bob Dennis Waterman Ed Begley, Jr.
Mary Fisher Patricia Hodge Meryl Streep
Nicola / Nicolette Caroline Butler Elisebeth Peters
Andy / Andrew Christopher Mossford Bryan Larkin

Paperback editions of the novel were issued in 1993 by Ballantine Books, New York (ISBN 0-345-32375-0) and by Sceptre, London (ISBN 0-340-58935-3).

Preceded by
Edge of Darkness
British Academy Television Awards
Best Drama Series or Serial

Succeeded by
Tutti Frutti

External links[edit]