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The novel opens with the story of Fyodor and his two wives. The first bears him a son, Dmitri; the second bears him two sons, Ivan and Alyosha. All three sons are packed off to live with relatives.
The novel then fast-forwards to the time of the events of the novel, when all three sons have reached their 20s. Ivan is staying with Fyodor, Dmitri is pestering Fyodor for his inheritance, and Alyosha lives at a nearby monastery preparing to become a monk.
Fyodor arrives at the monastery for a meeting presided over by the elder Zosima. The purpose of the meeting is to get Fyodor to reconcile with Dmitri, but Fyodor makes a fool of himself and leaves. Although he says he will not attend Father Superior's dinner, he does anyway. He causes a scene then returns home with Ivan.
Back at home, Fyodor has dinner with Ivan and Alyosha joins them. At the end of dinner, Dmitri bursts in and attacks Fyodor.
The next morning, alone for breakfast, Fyodor enjoys some cognac and a visit from Alyosha, after which he goes back to his bedroom.
That night Ivan returns home but doesn't join Fyodor for dinner.
The next morning Ivan announces that he's leaving for Moscow, but Fyodor convinces him to go to Chermashnya to take care of a business deal instead.
A couple hours later, Smerdyakov has an epileptic fit, which bothers Fyodor, who needs Smerdyakov to be on the lookout for Grushenka.
That night Fyodor is in his dressing gown, his head in a bandage, waiting for Grushenka. He hears the tapping signal at his window and rushes over. But there's no Grushenka. Instead, it's his son Dmitri, who runs off.
Terrified, Fyodor is reluctant to go to the window. Smerdyakov appears at his door and convinces him that Grushenka is outside. When Fyodor goes to the window to look for Grushenka, Smerdyakov hits him over the head with an ink stand and kills him.