The first 31 years of Ouspensky’s life were spent in Moscow which was then the second city of Russia. His parents were educated, middle-class or perhaps as Ouspensky wrote: ‘the family did not belong to any particular class’. His father died young and his mother and her two children may have moved in with Ouspensky’s grandmother, also a widow. The grandmother lived in a pleasant suburb about 2 km to the north of the city centre. In the same area lies the church where Ouspensky was baptised which, remarkably, was allowed to remain open throughout the Soviet era.
Ouspensky recorded some of his earliest memories, notably of a sense of déjà vu that he and his younger sister shared. He went to school in the Second Gymnasium of Moscow: this is depicted in his novel The Strange Life of Ivan Osokin. By his own admission he was a bad student but became interested at an early age in philosophy and psychology. He did not go to university as a full-time student, but is said to have attended some lectures and certainly acquired a broad knowledge of the sciences.
He worked as a journalist, at one point writing articles on foreign news for the Russian newspaper The Morning, though he admitted that he was more interested in occultism than foreign politics. The first archival documents about him throw some light on his circumstances.
There was a revolution in 1905 in Russia, which was suppressed. Ouspensky’s sister, Margarita, was involved in one of the movements behind the revolution. She was arrested in 1906 and died in prison.
In 1909 Ouspensky moved to the capital, St. Petersburg.