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Sanctuary (Faulkner novel)

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Subject: Light in August, As I Lay Dying, The Sound and the Fury, Yoknapatawpha County, Sartoris
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Sanctuary (Faulkner novel)

First edition cover. An alternate cover features shades of brown instead of blue.[1]
Author William Faulkner
Cover artist Arthur Hawkins Jr.
Country United States
Language English
Publisher Jonathan Cape-Harrison Smith
Publication date
Media type Print (hardback & paperback)
Preceded by As I Lay Dying
Followed by Light in August

Sanctuary is a novel by the American author William Faulkner. It is considered one of his more controversial, given its theme of rape. First published in 1931, it was Faulkner's commercial and critical breakthrough, establishing his literary reputation. It is said Faulkner claimed it was a "potboiler", written purely for profit, but this has been debated by scholars and Faulkner's own friends. In 1933 it was adapted into the film The Story of Temple Drake, with Popeye renamed "Trigger" for copyright reasons. The novel was later a co-source, with Requiem for a Nun, for the film Sanctuary (1961 film). A Russian film version - Cargo 200, set in 1984 Russia - was made in 2007. The novel is set in Faulkner's fictional Yoknapatawpha County (Mississippi) and takes place in May/June 1929.


  • Synopsis 1
  • Characters 2
    • Major characters 2.1
    • Minor characters 2.2
  • Reception 3
  • Editions 4
  • Sources 5


In May 1929, Horace Benbow, a lawyer frustrated with his life and family, suddenly leaves home in Kinston, Mississippi, and hitchhikes his way back to Jefferson, his hometown in Yoknapatawpha County. There, his widowed sister, Narcissa Sartoris, lives with her son and her late husband's great-aunt, Miss Jenny. On the way to Jefferson, he stops for a drink of water near the "Old Frenchman" homestead, which is occupied by the bootlegger Lee Goodwin. Benbow encounters a sinister man called Popeye, an associate of Goodwin's, who brings him to the decrepit mansion where he meets Goodwin and the strange people who live there with him. Later that night, Benbow catches a ride from Goodwin's place into Jefferson. He argues with his sister and Miss Jenny about leaving his wife, and meets Gowan Stevens, a local bachelor who has recently been courting Narcissa. That night, Benbow moves back into his parents' house, which has been sitting vacant for years.

After meeting Benbow, Stevens leaves to go to a dance in Oxford that same night. Stevens has returned to Jefferson after graduating college in Virginia, where he "learned to drink like a gentleman." He is from a wealthy family and prides himself on now having adopted the worldview of the Virginia aristocracy. His date that night is Temple Drake, a student at Ole Miss, who has a reputation of being a "fast girl." Temple also comes from a wealthy Mississippi family and is the daughter of a powerful judge. While they're out, Gowan and Temple make plans to meet the next morning to travel with her classmates to Starkville for a baseball game. But, after taking Temple home after the dance, Gowan learns from some locals where he can find moonshine and spends the night drinking heavily. He passes out in his car at the train station where he is supposed to rendezvous with Temple the next morning.

Gowan wakes the next morning to discover that he's missed Temple's train. He speeds to the next town to intercept it, meeting Temple in Taylor, and convincing her to ride with him to Starkville—a violation of the University's rules for young women. On the way, Gowan, still drunk, and an obvious alcoholic, decides to stop at the Goodwin place to find more moonshine. He crashes his car into a tree which Popeye had felled across the drive in case of a police raid. Popeye and Tommy, a good-natured "halfwit" who works for Goodwin, happen to be nearby when the accident happens, and take Temple and Gowan back to the old mansion. Temple is terrified, both by Gowan's behavior and by the strange people and circumstances into which he has brought her. Upon arriving at the Goodwin place, she meets Goodwin's common-law wife, Ruby, who advises her to leave before nightfall. Gowan is given more liquor to drink.

After nightfall, Goodwin returns home and is upset to find Gowan and Temple staying there. All the men continue to drink; Gowan and Van, a member of Goodwin's bootlegging crew, argue and provoke each other. Van makes crude advances toward Temple, rousing in the drunken Gowan a sense that he needs to protect Temple's honor. By this point Temple is deeply distressed. She is apprehensive of the bootleggers, truant from school, and afraid of being discovered for fear of her family's disapproval. She is condescending, which angers Popeye, and tries to hold court in the room where the men are drinking, despite Ruby's advice that she stay away from them. After being harassed, Temple finds a bedroom to hide in. Gowan and Van finally fight and Gowan is knocked out. The other men carry him into the room where Temple is cowering and throw him on the bed. Ruby and Tommy keep the men, including Popeye, from bothering Temple. Finally, the men leave on a whiskey run in the middle of the night.

The next morning, Gowan wakes and silently leaves the house, abandoning Temple. Tommy, who dislikes and fears Goodwin's other men, hides Temple in a corn crib in the barn. But Popeye, who has obviously been devising a scheme, soon discovers them there. He murders Tommy with a gunshot to the back of the head and then proceeds to rape Temple with a corncob. Afterwards, he puts her in his car and drives to Memphis, where he has connections in the criminal underworld.

Meanwhile, Goodwin discovers Tommy's body at his barn. When the police arrive on the scene, they assume Goodwin committed the crime and arrest him. Goodwin knows of Popeye's guilt, but doesn't implicate him out of fear of retaliation. In Jefferson, Goodwin is jailed and Benbow takes up his legal defense, even though he knows that Goodwin cannot pay him. Benbow tries to let Ruby and her sickly infant child stay with him in the house in Jefferson, but Narcissa, acting as half-owner, refuses because of the Goodwin family's reputation. In the end Benbow has no choice but to put Ruby and her son in a room at a local hotel.

Benbow tries unsuccessfully to get Goodwin to tell the court about Popeye. He soon finds out about Temple and her presence at Goodwin's place when Tommy was murdered, heads to Ole Miss to look for her. He discovers that she has left the school. On the train back to Jefferson, he runs into an unctuous state senator named Clarence Snopes, who says that the newspaper is claiming that Temple has been "sent up north" by her father. In reality, Temple is living in a room in a Memphis bawdy house owned by Miss Reba, an asthmatic widowed madam, who thinks highly of Popeye and is happy that he's finally chosen a paramour. Popeye keeps Temple at the brothel for use as a sex slave. However, as he is impotent, he brings along Red, a young gangster, and forces him and Temple to have sex while he watches.

When Benbow returns from Oxford, he learns that the owner of the hotel has kicked out Ruby and her child. After Narcissa again refuses to give them shelter, Benbow finds a place for Ruby to stay outside of town. Meanwhile, Snopes visits Miss Reba's brothel and discovers that Temple is living there. Snopes realizes that this information might be valuable to both Benbow and Temple's father. After Benbow agrees to pay Snopes for the information, Snopes divulges Temple's whereabouts in Memphis. Benbow immediately heads there and convinces Miss Reba to let him talk to Temple. Miss Reba is sympathetic to the plight of Goodwin and his family, although she still admires and respects Popeye. Temple tells Benbow the story of her rape at Popeye's hands. Benbow, shaken, returns to Jefferson. Upon his return home, he reflects on Temple and is reminded of Little Belle, his stepdaughter. Benbow then proceeds to masturbate after seeing a photograph of her in his house.

At this point, Temple has become thoroughly corrupted by life in the brothel. After bribing Miss Reba's servant to let her leave the house, she runs into Popeye waiting outside in his car. He takes Temple to a roadhouse called The Grotto, intending to finally settle whether she permanently stays with Popeye or Red. At the club, Temple drinks heavily and tries to have furtive sex with Red in a back room, but he spurns her advances for the moment. Two of Popeye's friends frog-march her out of the club and drive her back to Miss Reba. Popeye kills Red, which turns Miss Reba against him. She tells some of her friends what has happened, hoping he will be captured and executed for the murder.

Narcissa visits the District Attorney and reveals she wants Benbow to lose the case as soon as possible, so that he will cease his involvement with the Goodwins. After writing to his wife to ask for a divorce, Benbow tries to get back in touch with Temple via Miss Reba, who tells him that both she and Popeye are gone. At around this time, Goodwin's trial begins in Jefferson. On the second day of the trial, Temple makes a surprise appearance and takes the stand, giving false testimony that it was Goodwin, not Popeye, who had raped and brutalized her. The District Attorney also presents the corncob used in Temple's rape as evidence.

The jury finds Goodwin guilty after only eight minutes of deliberation. Benbow, devastated, is taken back to Narcissa's house. After wandering out of the house that evening, he finds that Goodwin has been lynched by the townsfolk with his body set ablaze. Benbow is recognized in the crowd, which speaks of lynching him, too. The next day, a defeated Benbow returns home to his wife. Ironically, on his way to Pensacola, Florida to visit his mother, Popeye is arrested and hanged for a crime he never committed. Temple and her father make a final appearance in the Jardin du Luxembourg, having found sanctuary in Paris.

See also Requiem for a Nun (1951), a play/novel sequel to Sanctuary.


Major characters

  • Popeye - Criminal with an unsavory past, involved in the Goodwin bootlegging operation. Also has unspecified ties to the Memphis criminal underworld. His mother had syphilis when he was conceived. He is impotent and has various other physical afflictions. He rapes Temple with a corncob and then takes her to Memphis and keeps her in a room at Miss Reba's brothel.
  • Horace Benbow - Lawyer who represents Mr. Goodwin in the trial for Tommy's murder. He is well-meaning and intelligent, but proves ineffective and powerless in the face of a troubled marriage and Temple's false testimony.
  • Tommy - "Halfwit" member of the Goodwin bootlegging crew. He is murdered by Popeye while he is trying to protect Temple.
  • Lee Goodwin - Bootlegger who is accused of Tommy's murder, for which he is tried, wrongly convicted, and lynched.
  • Ruby Lamar - Goodwin's common-law wife and mother of his child. She is shunned and reviled by most of the cityfolk for "living in sin" with Goodwin.
  • Temple Drake - Student at University of Mississippi, daughter of a prestigious judge, a vapid "fast girl" who gets in over her head when she ends up meeting Popeye and the Goodwin bootleggers. She is raped and kidnapped by Popeye. At the trial, she lies and says Lee Goodwin killed Tommy.
  • Gowan Stevens - Vain, self-important, alcoholic man who takes Temple to the Goodwin house, where he hopes to buy some whisky. He gets drunk, gets beaten up by Van, and passes out. He leaves the house by himself the next morning, abandoning Temple, who then falls into Popeye's hands.
  • Miss Reba - Owns a Memphis brothel where Temple lives under Popeye's control; she thinks highly of Popeye until he brings Red in as a "stud", which shocks and scandalizes her.

Minor characters

  • "Pap" - Probably Goodwin's father; a blind and deafmute old man who lives at the Goodwin place.
  • Van - A young tough who works for Goodwin
  • Red - A Memphis criminal who has intercourse with Temple, at Popeye's request, so that Popeye (who is impotent) can watch; Popeye later tires of this arrangement and murders Red
  • Minnie - Miss Reba's maidservant
  • Narcissa Benbow - Horace's younger sister (the widow of Bayard Sartoris)
  • Miss Jenny - Narcissa's deceased husband's great-aunt, who lives with Narcissa and young Bory
  • Benbow Sartoris, aka "Bory" - Narcissa's ten-year-old son
  • Little Belle - Horace Benbow's stepdaughter
  • Miss Lorraine, Miss Myrtle - friends of Miss Reba


Most reviews described the book as horrific and said that Faulkner was a very talented writer. Some critics also felt that he should write something pleasant for a change.[2]

Time commented that "A favorite question on Shakespeare examinations is 'Distinguish between horror and terror.' Sanctuary is compact of both. The horrors of any ghost story pale beside the ghastly realism of this chronicle. [...] When you have read the book you will see what Author Faulkner thinks of the inviolability of sanctuary. The intended hero is the decent, ineffectual lawyer. But all heroism is swamped by the massed villainy that weighs down these pages. Outspoken to an almost medical degree, Sanctuary should be let alone by the censors because no one but a pathological reader will be sadistically aroused."[3]


In 1931, Sanctuary was published by galley copies and promptly decided to rewrite the manuscript as he was not satisfied with it. He thought that it might sell 10,000 copies. This version was published in 1931.[6][7][8][9] All later editions featured the text from the 1931/32 editions however, a plethora of typographical errors existed, some of which were corrected in the later editions.[10] In 1958, a new edition was published by Random House with the co-operation of Faulkner, the entire text was reset and errors corrected. The copyright year is listed as "1931, 1958" in this edition.[11] Note, that the copyright was set to expire in 1959.

In 1981, Random House published another edition titled Sanctuary: The Original Text, edited by Noel Polk. This edition features the text of Faulkner's original manuscript as submitted in 1929, with errors corrected.[12] In 1993, another version was published by Vintage Books titled "Sanctuary: The Corrected Text" which corrects additional errors. This is the only edition currently in print, though reprints of it bear the original novel's title, simply Sanctuary.


  1. ^ Steven Heller, Seymour Chwast. Jackets Required, Chronicle Books, 1995. 122
  2. ^ The Book Review Digest, 1932 edition, Marion A. Knight, Mertice M. Jones, Dorothy Brown, The H.W. Wilson Company, p.337.
  3. ^ "Books: Baudelaire with Loving Care*", Time, Monday, Feb. 16, 1931
  4. ^ "Books: Baudelaire with Loving Care*", Time, Monday, Feb. 16, 1931
  5. ^ Steven Heller, Seymour Chwast. Jackets Required, Chronicle Books, 1995. 122
  6. ^ William Faulkner. Sanctuary, Modern Library, 1932. v, vi, vii
  7. ^ Langford, Gerald. Faulkner’s Revision of Sanctuary: A Collation of the Unrevised Galleys and the Published Book, University of Texas Press, 1972.
  8. ^ William Faulkner. Sanctuary, Random House, 1958
  9. ^ "Faulkner Was Wrong About 'Sanctuary'", New York Times, February 22, 1981.
  10. ^ William Faulkner. Sanctuary, Random House, 1958
  11. ^ William Faulkner. Sanctuary, Random House, 1958
  12. ^ "Faulkner Was Wrong About 'Sanctuary'", New York Times, February 22, 1981.
  • Faulkner: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Robert Penn Warren, 1966
  • Reading Faulkner: Sanctuary: Glossary and Commentary, Edwin T. Arnold and Dawn Trouard, 1996, ISBN 0-87805-873-7

Preceded by
As I Lay Dying
Novels set in Yoknapatawpha County Succeeded by
Light in August

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