Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
Yoknapatawpha County (YOK-nuh-puh-TAW-fuh). Faulkner’s mythical county, which is a setting in several of his works. The Old Frenchman’s Place is an abandoned plantation house deep in the county, which has been taken over by bootleggers. The violent actions that set the plot of the novel in motion—arguments, fights, a rape, and a murder—occur in and around the old house and barn. Faulkner contrasts this violence and the unsavory nature of most of the characters with the beauty of the natural surroundings, to which the bootleggers are insensitive. Thus, place becomes an integral part of the plot, especially in the contrast between the natural world and what mankind has made of the environment. Characters in the novel associated with the city of Memphis tend to be evil, or at least amoral, while those closer to nature (Horace Benbow, for example) tend to be virtuous—or at least to make an attempt to be. Old abandoned houses are recurrent elements in gothic fiction, and the plantation house, now put to a new purpose, serves as the setting for the events of the plot.
*Memphis. Tennessee city across the state line from Mississippi that is portrayed as something of a “sin city” in Sanctuary, and it is true that there was considerable crime in that city at the time of the story. Mulberry Street reflects a real downtown thoroughfare in Memphis, in which the red-light...
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Faulkner plunges the reader deep into the minds of some characters, especially Temple and Horace. One result is to produce great sympathy for these disturbing characters. They suffer, grope toward the meanings of their suffering, miss those meanings, and suffer more. In the last chapter, Faulkner suggests that Popeye's life experience is similar to theirs.
This example illustrates one of the main characteristics of Faulkner's technique in Sanctuary. By means of style, the arrangement of incidents, the juxtaposition of images, and many other devices, he simultaneously repels and attracts the reader. For this reason, reading Sanctuary is a harrowing experience. While its popularity is partly explained by its sensational plot, that continued popularity over several decades seems mysterious in light of the abrasive reading experience it offers.
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Ideas for Group Discussions
Sanctuary is not often taught, in part because the sexual themes are too controversial for secondary school, but mainly because Faulkner published a large body of work that overshadows this novel in the opinion of most literary critics. Although Sanctuary probably is not one of Faulkner's "great" works, it remains interesting because of its popular success and because it offers perhaps as complete a critique of contemporary culture as can be found in Faulkner's works. Much of what he felt to be most disturbing about American life early in his career finds a place in the novel.
A good discussion of the novel would give considerable attention to what Faulkner sees as signs of social corruption: the passing of an old order, the loss of a strong source of altruistic values and its replacement by selfishness, the dominance of shallow materialistic values, a growing arrogance of power and wealth, the glorification of consumption and self-indulgence, negative effects of the mass media, the collusion of crime and justice. Exploring the causes and consequences of this decline leads into aspects of Faulkner's views of contemporary and recent history.
Sanctuary contains several of Faulkner's most negative women, notably Narcissa Benbow and Temple Drake, and one of his more admirable women. Ruby Lamar. Exploring these characters can lead to interesting insights about Faulkner's view of women and of the ways they use and are victimized...
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Sanctuary achieved a kind of notorious popularity, largely because of its controversial treatment of sexual themes in handling the abduction and rape of Temple Drake. But the novel shows much more serious concerns in its response to the sense of emptiness that many artists felt in the spiritual life of the West after World War I, echoing the despair of such major works as F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby (1925) and Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises (1926). At the same time that it echoes a despairing world view, the novel also mocks the conventions and topics of popular fiction of the period: gothic romance, society romance, detective, crime, and thriller. One reason for this mockery is to undercut the various kinds of "easy" explanations such fictions frequently offer for social disorder and its solutions.
A central concern is how society deals with evil. The novel shows a variety of approaches to this problem, ranging from denial to corruption and from futile resistance to uncomfortable accommodation. Social institutions such as religion and the law are shown to be ineffectual at best, so that the novel seems to emphasize the importance of moral education and personal choice for the individual.
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Sanctuary, more than most of Faulkner's novels, draws heavily upon popular genres. Temple's story is a version of the story of the Gothic heroine from Horace Walpole to Stephen King. She moves from one Gothic mansion to another, from her dormitory at the University, to the decaying mansion of the Goodwin place, to the Victorian Memphis brothel, to the Jefferson courthouse. Popeye is almost a caricature of movie gangsters, and Horace tries to play the role of hard-boiled detective. The crisis of the novel takes place in a tense courtroom drama. There are elements of humor that recall Mark Twain and George Washington Harris as well as S. J. Perelman and Nathanael West. Andre Malraux said, "Sanctuary is the intrusion of Greek tragedy into the detective story."
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Sanctuary was first published under unusual circumstances. Faulkner often repeated a story he tells in his 1932 introduction to the Modern Library edition. The original manuscript was "a cheap idea, because it was deliberately conceived to make money." The manuscript was set up for printing, but before he saw the proofs, he published The Sound and the Fury (1929) and As I Lay Dying (1930). When he saw the proofs, he was ashamed of the book, so he reworked it, saving as much of the original as he could, but making it into a book that would not shame his other books. Since Sanctuary: The Original Text was published in 1981, scholars and critics have tended to agree that the second version is better than the first, but that the first was by no means merely a cheap idea.
Now one can read two different versions of Sanctuary and also a sort of sequel, Requiem for a Nun (1951). Requiem for a Nun combines a continuation in play form of the story of Temple Drake with a narrative account of the establishment of the institutions of justice in Yoknapatawpha County. In this experimental novel, Temple comes to terms with her youthful failure, facing the evil in herself as Horace had failed to do in Sanctuary.
Horace Benbow and his family appear in several other works, most notably in another novel which now exists in two versions, Sartoris (1929), an edited version, and Flags in the Dust...
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Sanctuary has been adapted twice for film: The Story of Temple Drake (1933) and Sanctuary (1961). According to Bruce Kawin, the earlier film is a serious attempt at adaptation bedeviled by the restrictions of the motion picture code. The later film combines Sanctuary with Requiem for a Nun to make a reasonably good adaptation of the whole Temple Drake story as Faulkner finally saw it in his sequel.
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Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Bassett, John, ed. William Faulkner: The Critical Heritage. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1975. Ninety-four critical reviews and essays on Faulkner including eight on Sanctuary, all written within two years of the publishing of Sanctuary.
Brooks, Cleanth. William Faulkner: The Yoknapatawpha Country. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1963. Contains chapters on most of the Faulkner novels and a section comparing Sanctuary and Requiem for a Nun, calling them Faulkner’s discovery of evil. One of the most helpful and accessible books for information on Faulkner.
Clarke, Deborah. Robbing the Mother: Women in Faulkner. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1994. Argues that female sexuality threatens a male-dominated cultural order in Sanctuary. Delineates women in Faulkner’s novels and finds women treated poorly. Some reference to the women in Faulkner’s life.
Dowling, David. William Faulkner. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1989. Includes a chronology and sections describing the major works completed during different periods in Faulkner’s life. History of Yoknapatawpha County, extended bibliography, and index. Finds Sanctuary to be the darkest of all of Faulkner’s novels and compares it to the other Faulkner novels of the...
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