Get ready for things to get real nerdy up in here. Like, even for a literary food blog.
In preparation for writing our Little Women Cookbook, I first re-read the novel and made a list of all the food and drinks that the characters consume. The next crucial step was to come up with a definitive timeline of the story. Why? In the Civil War era, the ingredients that were available were really limited by season, and I wanted to make sure our dishes were accurate to the scenes in the book.
Little Women fans disagree about the story timeline — I’ve seen arguments that start the book in 1860, 1861, or 1862.
- The 1860 start is based on Amy’s will in Chapter 19, which is dated November 20, 1861. But that doesn’t work — if this were the case, the book’s opening chapter would take place before the start of the Civil War (when Mr. March is away “where the fighting [is].”) The date of the will is probably an author error, but I like to think that Amy misdated her will — we all write the wrong year sometimes, and even in November, that can happen. (And young Amy’s not the most detail-oriented.)
- For an 1861 start, there’s one main piece of supporting evidence: Chapter 11, “Experiments.” In Chapter 11, it’s stated that June 7 is a Saturday. June 7 was a Saturday in 1862, but not in 1861 or 1863.
- Team 1862 argues that the North wasn’t doing much fighting yet in 1861, and in the beginning of the book, it feels like the war has been going on for some time already.
After much reading and analysis, I’m sticking with the 1861 start. The following timeline was created using hints from the text, including mentions of days of the week, months, specific dates, seasons, weather, and characters’ ages. For more detail (including an age time table and passages from the book), check out this Google sheet.
- December: “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents.” The Marches receive a letter from their father, and Marmee reads it aloud.
- December 25: The Marches give their Christmas breakfast to the Hummels. The girls put on “The Witch’s Curse” for their friends, and the Laurences send them a Christmas supper.
- December 31: Meg and Jo meet Laurie at a New Year’s Eve party.
- Winter: The Marches and Laurie become friends. Amy takes pickled limes to school. Amy burns Jo’s book and falls through ice while skating.
- April: Meg goes for a stay with the Moffats.
- May: The Pickwick Club publishes the May edition of their paper. Laurie establishes a post office in the hedge between their houses.
- Sunday, June 1: The girls begin their experiment of not working for a week.
- Saturday, June 7: Jo hosts a terrible dinner for Miss Crocker and Laurie. The Marches hold a funeral for Pip.
- July: Laurie hosts Camp Laurence for the Marches and his visiting British friends.
- September: Laurie finds out about the Busy Bee Society, and he and the girls weave castles in the air.
- October: Jo submits stories to a newspaper. Laurie tells Jo that John Brooke has Meg’s glove.
- November: The Marches receive a message that Mr. March is ill. Jo cuts off her hair. Mrs. March leaves for Washington. Beth catches scarlet fever.
- November 20: Amy writes her will, putting the wrong year for the date.
- December 2: Beth’s fever breaks. Mrs. March comes home.
- December 25: Mr. March returns, and the Marches have Christmas dinner with their neighbors.
- End of December: Meg and John are engaged.
- June: The second part of the book begins. Meg and John get married.
- Summer: Amy hosts an artistic fête. Meg tries to make currant jelly.
- Autumn: Meg buys violet silk.
- Summer: Meg gives birth to Demi and Daisy. Jo and Amy make social calls in July. Amy participates in the Chesters’ fair. Aunt and Uncle Carrol invite Amy to tour Europe with them.
- Autumn: Mrs. March asks Jo to find out what Beth seems sad about.
- November: Jo goes to New York.
- June: Jo returns from New York.
- December 25: Laurie and Amy meet up in Nice, France. They attend a ball.
- Spring: Beth dies. Laurie and Amy fall in love.
- November: Amy and Laurie come home. Professor Bhaer comes to visit.
- Jo and Professor Bhaer wait till they can be together.
- Winter: Aunt March dies.
- Jo and Professor Bhaer get married.
- October: The extended March family has an apple-picking holiday and celebrate Marmee’s 60th birthday.
Credit goes to Minerva McTabby’s timeline — even though we disagree on the starting year, looking at theirs was immensely helpful in constructing this one!