In the middle of the nineteenth century in Skotoprigonyevski, a town in the Russian provinces, Fyodor Karamazov fathers three sons, the eldest, Dmitri, by his first wife, and the other two, Ivan and Alexey, by his second. Fyodor, a good businessman but a scoundrel by nature, abandons the children after their mothers die. A family servant, Grigory, sees that they are placed in the care of relatives.
Dmitri grows up believing he will receive a legacy from his mother’s estate. He serves in the army, where he develops wild ways. Becoming a wastrel, he goes to his father and asks for the money that he believes is due him. Ivan, morose but not timid, goes from a gymnasium to a college in Moscow. Poverty forces him to teach and to contribute articles to periodicals, and he achieves modest fame when he publishes an article on the position of the ecclesiastical courts. Alexey, or Alyosha, the youngest son, a boy of a dreamy, retiring nature, enters a local monastery, where he becomes the pupil of a famous Orthodox Church elder, Zossima. When Alyosha asks his father’s permission to become a monk, Fyodor, to whom nothing is sacred, scoffs but gives his sanction.
When the brothers all reach manhood, their paths cross in the town of their birth. Dmitri returns to collect his legacy. Ivan, a professed atheist, returns home for financial reasons.
At a meeting of the father and sons at the monastery, Fyodor shames his sons by behaving like a fool in the presence of the revered Zossima. Dmitri, who arrives late, is accused by Fyodor of wanting the legacy money in order to entertain a local adventuress to whom he himself is attracted. Dmitri, who is betrothed at this time to Katerina, a colonel’s daughter whom he rescued from shame, rages at his father, saying that the old man is a great sinner and in no position to judge others. Zossima falls down before Dmitri, hitting his head on the floor, and his fall is believed to be a portent of an evil that will befall the oldest son. Realizing that the Karamazovs are sensualists, Zossima advises Alyosha to leave the monastery and go into the world at Zossima’s death. There is further dissension among the Karamazovs because of Ivan’s love for Katerina, the betrothed of Dmitri.
Marfa, the wife of Grigory, Fyodor’s faithful servant, gives birth to a deformed child. The night that Marfa’s deformed baby dies, Lizaveta, a girl of the town, also dies after giving birth to a son. The child, called Smerdyakov, is taken in by Grigory and Marfa and is accepted as a servant in the household of Fyodor, whom everyone in the district believes is the child’s true father.
Dmitri confesses his wild ways to Alyosha. He opens his heart to his brother and tells how he spent three thousand rubles of Katerina’s money in an orgy with Grushenka, a local woman of questionable character with whom he fell passionately in love. Desperate for the money to repay Katerina, Dmitri asks Alyosha to secure it for him from Fyodor.
Alyosha finds Fyodor and Ivan at the table, attended by the servant, Smerdyakov, who is an epileptic. Entering suddenly in search of Grushenka, Dmitri attacks his father. Alyosha goes to Katerina’s house, where he finds Katerina trying to bribe Grushenka into abandoning her interest in Dmitri. Grushenka, however, cannot be compromised. Upon his return to the monastery, Alyosha finds Zossima dying. He returns to Fyodor, to discover his father afraid of both Dmitri and Ivan. Ivan wants Dmitri to marry Grushenka so that he himself can marry Katerina. Fyodor wants to marry Grushenka. The father refuses to give Alyosha any money for Dmitri.
Spurned by Dmitri, Katerina dedicates her life to watching over him, although she feels a true love for Ivan. Ivan, seeing that Katerina is pledged to torture herself for life, nobly approves of her decision....
(The entire section is 1577 words.)