From his very birth Dostoevsky's life bore major contradictions that propelled his creative spirit toward a reconciling vision. Although his father was descended from the West-Russian nobility, he was a doctor of modest means. Raised in an atmosphere of Orthodox piety, Dostoevsky was influenced by numerous Western sources, particularly German pietism and authors from Schiller to Walter Scott and Ann Radcliffe. Lastly, though his life and works are inextricably linked to St. Petersburg, that most European of Russian cities, he was born and raised in traditional Moscow and at family properties in the country. In this way his intimations of nobility were belied by chronically severe financial straits and a tortured psychology, and his knowledge and advocacy of a traditional Russian identity were accompanied by a pained awareness of its dislocation in the reality of Europeanized Russia and in his own soul.
At the age of sixteen he traveled with his brother to St. Petersburg, where they were to enter the Engineering Institute. However, he later recalled, “We dreamt only of poetry and poets and I spent my time mentally composing a novel on Venetian life” (Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, 22:27, my translation). This idealism was tempered by the sordid aspects of Russian life, symbolized by Dostoevsky's witnessing the merciless beating of a horse by a drunken peasant. After graduating from the institute and serving in the army for two years, he devoted himself to literature, finding his main inspiration in Gogol and in French realists of a humanist bent such as Balzac, Hugo, and George Sand. In 1844 he published a translation of Balzac's Eugénic Grandet and that same year came to the notice of literary Petersburg through his short novel Bednye liudi (1845). The social thematics of this work accorded with the increasingly realist or naturalist orientation of Russian thought, and it was celebrated by radical critics. Dostoevsky entered into a series of political circles and groups, some of which