Dostoyevsky began his first notes for The Brothers Karamazov in April 1878. Several influences can be gleaned from the earliest stages of the novel's genesis.
Though Dostoyevsky was influenced by religion and philosophy in his life and the writing of The Brothers Karamazov, a personal tragedy altered the work. In May 1878, Dostoyevsky's three-year-old son Alyosha died of epilepsy, a condition inherited from his father. The novelist's grief is apparent throughout the book; Dostoyevsky named the hero Alyosha, as well as imbuing him with qualities which he sought and most admired. His loss is also reflected in the story of Captain Snegiryov and his young son Ilyusha.
The death of his son brought Dostoevsky to the Optina Monastery later that year. There, he found inspiration for several aspects of The Brothers Karamazov, though at the time he intended to write a novel about childhood instead. Parts of the biographical section of Zosima's life are based on "The Life of the Elder Leonid", a text he found at Optina and copied "almost word for word".
Another experience led to his choosing patricide to dominate the external action of the novel. In the 1850s, while serving his sentence in Omsk, he met three brothers who represented the perfect fraternal union in expiation. They had committed a crime obeying the order of the firstborn, Alei, whose innocence and sweetness captivated the novelist from the first moment he met him.
The fictional town in which the novel takes place, "Skotoprigon'evsk", was probably based on Staraya Russa, where Dostoyevsky spent much of the time between 1872 and 1880.
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