The evil ways of Ruth Yancey Fox--an ersatz, 20th-century Southern belle (with a headful of bats) who brings misery to three generations of Foxes, that first family of Sparta, Georgia. In 1903 ten-year-old Ruth Yancey rightfully hates her mad hellfire preacher-father--who beats and humiliates his terrified family, keeping them in poverty. So, picking up whip-hand clues from her bitter mother Pearl, Ruth tricks her father into drunken incest; and his predictable death five months later allows self-sacrificing Pearl to accept the offer of gentle, idealistic Alicia Fox--who takes Ruth into the Fox household. Ruth, of course, now erasing her mill-family origins, gets to work on her plan for securing Fox's Earth for herself and her female line forever: ""You can git most ever'thing you want from a man. . . the only safe woman is a woman who's beholden to you."" She marries Alicia's son Paul, pushes him into law (which he hates), eases now-widowed Alicia into premature senility, and fatally overfeeds dangerously overweight Paul. Ruth also hires a brash Easterner to perform marital stud duties for her daughter Hebe--who bears Yancey, young Paul, and Nell, But the dirty work ain't over yet, because Paul Sr.'s will has made grandson Paul the heir. So, through disgrace and innuendo, Ruth will drive young Paul away (he is killed in N.Y. by a homosexual suitor whose jealousy has been fueled by. . . guess who). And though granddaughter Yancey safely becomes a Manhattan career woman, granddaughter Nell (married to a pompous English-prof) is writing novels, having affairs, and edging out from under the control of hideous ""Gamma."" Thus, Ruth's Bette Davis act continues on and on, and only when she's in her coffin do her hating kinfolk take revenge (as does black nanny Rip). Siddons' facile narration barely disguises the florid implausibilities of the plot, but there's a certain bounce to all the gloom--and those readers partial to a double-feature of Jezebel and The Little Foxes may enjoy this updated Southern-belle-villainy festival.