“Um,” says Andrea Sachs, that boring and undeveloped accessory of the “devil,” Miranda Priestly who is the editor of Runway fashion magazine. “Um,” Sachs repeats as prominent literary people insist how eloquent she is. “Um,” shouts Andrea Sachs as I turn another page in a novel that appears to have very little to do with the devil or with Prada.
The Devil Wears Prada (American, 2003) by Lauren Weisberger is a novel that I have been considering for my World Literature class on the devil in literature (and includes novels that I have been exploring in my “The Devil is a Woman, but only Momentarily” blog series). Having finally gotten around to reading it, I will most likely never teach this text but it does make an interesting installment in my blog series as I continue to grapple with the devil and gender representation in literature.
The first aspect of the novel that struck me was its nonexistent devil references. Weisberger does not make any witty connections between Priestly and the canon of other literature that takes up the devil. In fact, the devil aspect seems to have been added in at the last minute with a quick change of the antagonist’s name to “Priestly” and one key scene in which she appears in a very red ensemble. Sachs takes a job that “a million girls would die for” but that is about as far as the threat goes. Only in the very last scene of the novel, when a victorious (because she tells Priestly to fuck herself) Sachs — who has returned to her doughnut-inhaling and Big Mac-munching persona — walks back into the fashion building is there any deep connection to devil imagery. The cheeky check-in clerk, Eduardo, is singing “Bye, bye Miss American Pie…this will be the day that I die” as he buzzes Sachs into the building without authentication. She feels, finally, like she is someone who “matters.” When someone is let into the gates without penalty after a song about dying, one is forced to think about heaven and hell. The Runway building is obviously supposed to be hell, but the ending imagery paints it like heaven. Sachs feels empowered by getting let in “for free,” as Eduardo shoots her a wink. I was confused about the metaphor of the location, but I was relieved that at least I could see some kind of landscape forming with some kind of connection to the discourse of devilry.
The second connection between the discourse of devilry and The Devil Wears Prada is religion. Both Sachs and Priestly are Jewish, yet Priestly has apparently forsaken her family — along with her heritage. Sachs titters dangerously on the edge of doing the same (living “in sin” with her soggy do-gooder boyfriend, and being told by Priestly that she reminds her of herself when she was young) but then when her best friend almost dies in a car crash caused by her drunkenness she realizes that the morality of her religion has merit. In the end, Judaism conquers devilry.
But then, Priestly doesn’t really seem like the devil. First of all, we are told by the title that the devil wears Prada. Priestly does not wear Prada, she wears Hermes. Prada appears on several characters at different points but the brand name is lumped with others in a few of the numerous lists of brands that streak the pages. Sachs wears Prada for the longest time and with the most attention from Weisberger.
Is Sachs the devil?
Priestly is bitchy and unhappy, successful and brilliant. Some devils are like this. Yet Priestly doesn’t really ever tempt anyone, she doesn’t seem to want anyone’s soul. In fact, when little Anita Alvarez writes to her about how she would give anything to be like one of the models in Runway, Priestly doesn’t care. She receives millions of letters from people willing to “sell their souls” for a kind word from her. The devil would move on this.
But Priestly doesn’t. Sachs does.
Sachs takes it upon herself to tempt Alvarez with fancy clothing. Sachs handles all of the soul-selling.
The devil has no soul. Neither does Sachs. As a character, she is one of the most flat characters that I have encountered. There is really very little development of her character. At first, I think that she is going to increasingly become like the shallow, fashion-slinging moguls around her. That would have been interesting. But she really never does. Instead, she maintains her eye-rolling, soup-slugging, poor time managing, inability to judge priorities, and “um”-ing, charming approach to life from beginning to end. A flat character is…well…soulless.
Sachs is the devil. What she wears is Prada, sure. But more than that, nada. Ephemeral. True devil form.
I was disappointed with the novel, and I am not sure yet what this entry has to add to my investigation of gender-shifting in devil literature. Maybe nothing. Maybe I will come back to it in time, once the disappointment dissipates and I am able to think a bit more critically.