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Chapter 9: Meg goes to Vanity Fair
Meg spends a couple of weeks with the fashionable Moffats where she has an opportunity to party, dance and shop to her heartís content. The experience is not quite as much fun as she anticipated as the other girls exchange superior glances over Megís out-of-style, well-worn tarleton gown. A delivery of flowers from Laurie and a note from her mother enable her to shake off her embarrassment and almost enjoy an evening of dancing until she hears people talking about her on the other side of a thin divider wall. They speak of her "dowdy tarleton," the "fib about her mamma" (they believe the note was a love note from Mr. Laurence), and the "plans" of Mrs. M.
Meg allows the girls to loan her a very low cut blue gown for the next party. They adorn her with jewels, flowers, and makeup, making her look like something out of a fashion magazine more than herself. Although Meg doesnít feel quite right, she tries to act the part of a fashionable lady, flirting with her fan and laughing at feeble jokes told by young men. Her discomfort is complete when Laurie appears at the dance and is obviously displeased at her appearance. She is hurt and angry at Laurie until she overhears one of the guests say that "they have spoilt her entirely, sheís nothing but a doll tonight."
Laurie promises not to tell Marmee and the girls about Megís dress, but when Meg gets home she confesses, telling her mother that she "drank champagne and romped and tried to flirt and was, altogether, abominable." Marmee and the girls discuss the problems caused by putting too much emphasis on money and fine things rather than on love, happiness and self respect.
As a reader, I was not convinced that Meg actually behaved so very "abominably." She certainly didnít do anything any other girl at the party wasnít doing. The contrast and the sense of guilt is self-imposed because she has been taught to be chaste and subdued, and instead she behaves a little out of character in flirting with the young men and taking part in the general party affectation. The narrator also implies here that money naturally causes people to act like fools, and in many cases perhaps it does. However, the generalization that Marmee and her daughters arrive at is that the people at the party behaved in a boisterous and bold manner because they were putting the emphasis on money. As for Meg, she was garbed in a gown that was of a more daring style than she would usually have worn. The combination of dress, jewelry and champagne along with a hefty dose of peer pressure influenced her to behave in the flirtatious manner of the other girls. Meg does not realize that while the girls cast sidelong glances of ridicule and pity at her own well-worn gown, the gentlemen were perfectly content to accept her just as she was.