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Last Updated October 19, 2023.

Sanctuary is a novel by American author William Faulkner, first published in 1931 by Jonathan Cape and Harrison Smith. It is set in Mississippi in the late 1920s. The first chapter begins with the lawyer Horace Benbow hitchhiking to Jefferson, abandoning his wife and stepdaughter. While drinking from a spring, he is intercepted by a shifty man named Popeye and brought to an abandoned plantation house nearby. There, Benbow meets a Black bootlegger named Lee Goodwin, his common-law wife Ruby, and their mentally impaired accomplice Tommy.

Before reaching Jefferson, Benbow stops at the home of his sister Narcissa, a widow living with her late husband’s great-aunt, Miss Jenny. Narcissa introduces Benbow to her suitor, Gowan Stevens, a self-styled “gentleman” who studied at the University of Virginia. 

That same night, Gowan goes on a date with Temple Drake, a young college girl from an upper-class family. After parting with her, he drinks heavily with a few local boys and passes out at a train station. In the morning, he hurriedly fetches Temple and insists on driving by the abandoned plantation house to get booze before continuing to Starkville. However, Gowan crashes the car on a fallen tree, blocking the road. The two are forced to seek help at the plantation.

When Temple meets Ruby, the latter advises her to leave before nightfall. However, Gowan insists on waiting for Goodwin—as he is too intimidated by Popeye to ask for his help. When Goodwin arrives at night, all of the men start drinking. One of Goodwin’s bootlegging crew members, Van, harasses Temple. This leads to a drunken altercation between Van and Gowan, which ends with the latter passing out cold. 

When the other men leave in the middle of the night, Ruby hides Temple in the barn. The next day, Gowan wakes and decides to abandon Temple in his shame. Tommy finds Temple in the barn and resolves to guard her. However, Popeye is able to force his way in and shoots Tommy dead. He then rapes Temple and abducts her in his car. When Goodwin finds Tommy’s body, he and Ruby telephone the sheriff to report the crime.

Having been arrested for Tommy’s murder, Goodwin enlists Benbow as his attorney. However, he refuses to name Popeye as the real murderer for fear of retaliation. Benbow sets up Ruby and her child at the local hotel. Unfortunately, this draws the ire of Narcissa and Miss Jenny, who openly express their dislike of Benbow taking on such an unsavory case. Eventually, Ruby admits to Benbow that Temple was also there at the plantation.

Meanwhile, Popeye drives Temple up to Memphis and sets her up at a brothel with the help of the owner, Miss Reba Rivers. Temple is confined inside a single room, visited by Popeye occasionally to use her for his pleasures. Back at the University of Mississippi, where Temple used to study before she dropped out, Benbow asks around for information on her. He bumps into Senator Clarence Snopes and learns from him that, according to the local papers, Temple’s family sent her to Michigan to live with an aunt.

Benbow returns to Jefferson and finds that he must relocate Ruby and her child again. One evening, he gets a call from Snopes, who had recently spotted Temple in a Memphis whorehouse. Benbow ends up paying Snopes for information on Temple’s whereabouts. He then drives down to Miss Reba’s brothel and sits down with Temple, pleading with her to help his case against Popeye. Hysterical and no longer mentally stable, Temple meanders in, telling him of her rape and abduction. Benbow...

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returns home, deeply disturbed.

Temple bribes Reba’s servant Minnie the next day to let her leave the brothel for ten minutes. She goes to a telephone stand and calls Red, one of Popeye’s men. Popeye drives Temple to a drinking hole called The Grotto at night, presumably letting her choose between him and Red. There, Temple gets drunk and tries to have sex with Red. However, he persuades Temple to wait for him at the back while he takes care of Popeye. 

Two men force Temple into a car and drive her back to the brothel. The next chapter jumps to Red’s funeral. A bullet to the forehead had killed him. The bereaved congregate at Reba’s brothel, where she reveals that, due to Popeye’s impotence, he had been forcing Temple and Red to have sex while he watched.

Narcissa visits the District Attorney working on Goodwin’s case. Out of her distaste for the whole affair, she informs him that Benbow has been meeting up with Snopes. The day before the trial, Benbow calls up Reba only to find out that Temple has fled the brothel. Despite this, he can make a good case on behalf of Goodwin on the first day of the trial. 

However, Benbow is surprised to see Temple inside the courthouse on the second day. The district attorney calls on Temple as his witness and submits a corncob with dried blood as evidence. Though it was the corncob that Popeye used to rape Temple with in the barn, she falsely testifies that it was Goodwin instead who had raped her and shot Tommy. As a result, Popeye is found guilty and lynched in the town square.

Defeated, Horace takes the train and returns home to his wife, Belle, who has little to say to him but lock the back door. In the last chapter, it is revealed that Popeye was arrested that same year for a murder he did not commit. The novel ends with the scene of a bored Temple lounging at the Luxembourg Gardens with her father.

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