The novel was initially published in 1911, when the failed revolution of 1905 in Russia was history. Conrad started work on the novel soon after his fiftieth birthday. In this version "Razumov", the story that would become Under Western Eyes, over the next two years, was intended to extend and rework ideas in the plot of The Secret Agent. When Conrad finally delivered the completed manuscript to his agent at the end of January 1910, the occasion itself proved explosive and led to a breach in relation that lasted two years. J.B. Pinker, to whom Conrad was very heavily in debt, seems to have lost patience with his author's pace of work and precipitated a quarrel. Shortly after a heated exchange, Conrad collapsed, his doctor diagnosing "a complete nervous breakdown" that had "been coming for months".
Describing her husband's breakdown, Jessie Conrad wrote: "he lives mixed up in the scenes and hold converse with the characters" of Under Western Eyes. Elsewhere she recalls how Conrad, in delirium, "spoke all the time in Polish, but for a few fierce sentences against poor J.B. Pinker"  His delusions apparently included symptoms of persecution mania.
In 1920, Conrad wrote an Author's Note for this novel, reflecting on its changed perception due to events of history, specifically the Russian Revolution of 1917. He said "It must be admitted that by the mere force of circumstances Under Western Eyes has become already a sort of historical novel dealing with the past."
The novel is fundamentally connected to Russian history. Its first audience read it against the backdrop of the failed Revolution of 1905 and in the shadow of the movements and impulses that would take shape as the revolutions of 1917. Despite Conrad's protestations that Dostoyevsky was "too Russian for me" and that Russian literature generally was "repugnant to me hereditarily and individually", critics have long discerned the influence of Crime and Punishment on this work.