(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 20)

Largely viewed as a thinly veiled, satiric depiction of the author’s year as a personal assistant toVogue magazine’s celebrated editor Anna Wintour, The Devil Wears Prada is essentially a two-character novel that pits a powerful woman boss against her resentful personal assistant, also a woman. The devil of the title is Miranda Priestly, the most influential woman in the fashion world and prominent editor of the major fashion magazine here called Runway. Despite the fact that Miranda is a moral monster, she is nevertheless the life and soul of the narrative. A rude and irrational figure, her outrageous conduct provides the narrative with its most entertaining episodes. Miranda is presented in such a way that she becomes the proverbial villain one loves to hate. Her existence colors every moment in this novel, including those in which she is actually absent—her great and dreadful spirit seems to hover menacingly even over those times and places that lack her physical presence. Like a powerful witch or goddess, her psyche seems to pervade every corner of her assistant Andrea’s existence, eating away at her personal life and relationships and dominating the narrative with powers that seem almost magical.

Outrageously thin, extraordinarily chic, and fantastically beautiful, Miranda can command a room simply by entering it and, as a result, seems to have no need for ordinary mortal manners and graces. She assumes that there will always be a team of sycophants and servants who will be at her beck and call and who will cater to her every whim. As her personal assistant, Andrea runs endless errands, including not only banalities such as attending to the dry cleaning but also impossible feats such as procuring an advance copy of the newest installment of the Harry Potter books and sending it, at tremendous expense, to Miranda’s children in Paris, or hunting endlessly for a special new restaurant on deliberately insufficient and misleading information provided by Miranda herself.

Andrea must also procure Miranda’s coffee and meals, especially purchasing endless hot breakfasts each morning so that Miranda will have one waiting for her whenever she chooses to arrive in the morning. The spending of the magazine’s money on these numerous uneaten breakfasts is indicative of the general aura of extravagance that accompanies Miranda wherever she goes. She regularly holds deluxe parties at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is showered with expensive gifts by the various designers who court her approval, purchases a $40,000 Chanel gown which then immediately costs $670 to dry clean, and has a standing order for hundreds of trademark white Hermes scarves, which she will then carelessly lose, soil, or discard.

The comparatively frumpy Andrea is also subjected to numerous slights and insults by the always-elegant Miranda—she is forbidden, for instance, to hang her coat near Miranda’s in the closet. She cannot eat in front of her boss or go to the bathroom if it means no one will be available to answer Miranda’s phone for her. Miranda also belittles Andrea by never thanking her for the various services she is required to perform at any hour of the day and night and often seems deliberately to demonstrate Andrea’s unimportance in the scheme of things by referring to her by another assistant’s name.

Weisberger adds a certain explanatory layer to Miranda by giving her a rags-to-riches background; it is revealed early on that she was born Miriam Princhek and changed her name and lost her Cockney accent as her talent and drive propelled her to the top of her profession. Although even the beleaguered and resentful Andrea recognizes that Miranda has made herself into a brilliant and even visionary editor, her power and status at this point have insulated and infantilized her to such a degree that she appears to be losing touch with reality. Depending on the servants and assistants who are paid to wait on her, Miranda seems helpless when required to function autonomously. Andrea also discerns a deep unhappiness beneath Miranda’s elegant facade, for which her power, status, and fabulous wardrobe do not compensate.

What is being explored in the character of Miranda is not simply evil but the way in which evil “wears Prada”; that is, transpires in a system that seems to offer opportunities to women for success and for powerful positions and in which fashionable and expensive clothes such as those by the superstar designer Miuccia Prada validate their new status. Seen in this light, a stylish, intelligent woman such as Miranda can be interpreted as the dark outcome of a feminism that has permitted demonic impulses to run riot while masking them in the guise of a successful career woman.

Andrea Sachs, Miranda’s young new assistant, constitutes the second major subject of this story, which is told from her...

(The entire section is 1987 words.)