A powerful novel examining the nature of evil, informed by the works of T. S. Eliot and Freud, mythology, local lore, and hardboiled detective fiction. Sanctuary is the dark, at times brutal, story of the kidnapping of Mississippi debutante Temple Drake, who introduces her own form of venality into the Memphis underworld where she is being held.
It's a story about life in the deep South, and how some outrageous characters get mixed up with some 'regular' folks, and the shocking misadventures that follow. How did they get mixed up? Alcohol, and moonshining, and the little supply and demand problem they had in the 1930's. Don't miss it.
Most of the story lacks a foundation as much as Faulkner’s characters do. Time, as always in Faulkner, plays a central role. Although time progresses in reality, time always seem as stuck as a dead watch to these characters. They lack a basic purpose and direction in life. They had a narrative which was centered around living an aristocratic life with slaves doing the manual work; now, they do not have a sense of self. Lacking a narrative that describes who they are, they also lack a central inspiration to seek something – anything – better.
Of course, Faulkner is sophisticated and heady as always. He is less verbose than he is in many other works (think The Sound and the Fury and Absalom! Absalom! with their page-long sentences). Faulkner claimed to have written this novel purely for profit, but some question this. This book is incredibly action-packed. If anything, the plot advances too quickly rather than too slowly.
Anyone looking for character development will be disappointed by this book. Its characters are run down. In the end, they are lynched, executed for crimes that they didn’t commit, disillusioned, and sexually tortured. They illustrate how precarious life can be – how even a judge’s daughter can end up a sex slave and unable to advocate for herself.
Faulkner’s habit of description by indirection came in handy in his 1932 novel, Sanctuary which deals with some pretty nasty stuff, particularly for the time of publication. As for the nasty stuff, Temple Drake, a young college girl from a prominent Mississippi family, goes on a date with who drinks himself into oblivion and leaves her with a group of bootleggers right out of Deliverance [pardon the anachronism]. She is then raped with a corn cob because her assailant, Popeye, is impotent. Popeye is a stone cold killer, who then takes her to a Memphis whore house, where, among other indignities, she is forced to have sex with “Red,” while Popeye watches. Popeye later shoots Red, presumably out of jealousy. This sounds like it would be a pretty tawdry book, but Faulkner’s descriptions are so oblique, that he slips the nastiness by the reader without being pornographic, or even particularly graphic.
Faulkner makes some wry observations about Southern society. The justice system is anything but just, hanging at least one innocent man and convicting Popeye of a murder he didn’t commit. Temple’s date is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where he “learned to drink like a gentleman.” A local politician is about as crass, venal, and corrupt as any you will find in literature or real life, at least before Trump.
Faulkner’s writing, as always, alternates between very terse and purple prose. He sometimes uses adjectives that seemed to come from his Thesaurus. I guess to appreciate Faulkner, you just have to take the purple with the terse.
It reminded me of a Cormac McCarthy book with more description. This isn't a positive thing, for me. There were almost no characters in Sanctuary with any redeeming
There are indeed horrible people in this story. (And this is, indeed, a horrific story.) And there are hapless people, altruistic people, people caught in the trap of life, and people who have made their own traps. But, primarily there is Southerner after Southerner who seems ripped from central casting to fill in the role of idiot hick, racist, step-and-fetchit, fill in your favorite southern stereotype. If it was indeed his objective to tap into what people thought Mississippians were like (generally at their worst), then he succeeded.
Unfortunately, it is also seems he succeeded in writing a book "for the money" – that is, writing a book that feels like Faulkner going through the paces to produce what people think they want.
Now, even Faulkner going through the paces is better than most authors running at full speed, but the book definitely suffers from its reliance on customer expectations. In particular, the beginning is quite off-putting. It is all about introducing these clichés of the south who happen to also be key characters in the novel. In doing this, the novel refuses to get started. Some questions are raised, and we are immersed in the mood of the situation, but none of it is immediately compelling. There is the dark and mysterious, there is the oppressive southern heat and life. But nothing is moving – it is all introduction, character, and style – and that results in a book that does not immediately absorb.
In fact, one of the issues with this book –one of the pieces of evidence I see that he was writing what he thought people wanted – is an overabundance of descriptions of places and mood. Faulkner has great skill in this area, but he is not using that skill to the best within this novel. Instead, it is almost as if the timer went off and Faulkner thought "Oops, time to put in more description; that's what they expect."
The shame of all this is that the underlying story is very good. It is, as promised, a horrific tale whose impact is not blunted with the passage of time (no matter how numb we think we have all become.) It was probably for good reason that his editor's first reaction was supposedly "Good God, I can't publish this. We'd both be in jail." Maybe time has not been as kind to our ability to believe the motivations and actions of some of the characters, but the story is good enough that the reader can easily move past that minor quibble without notice.
No, the problem here is that much of it smacks of content for content's sake. The result may have been a best seller, but it is definitely not a "best" book.
Wondering how this all fits together? Hope you aren’t in any hurry, because large chunks of this don’t fall into place until the final pages of the book. For reasons having to do with art or perhaps too much bourbon on writing nights, Faulkner’s narrative is frustratingly impenetrable. Some parts are told but left unexplained (if there’s such a thing as taking “show, don’t tell” too far, Faulkner has accomplished it here), some key elements are referenced only obliquely, and some aren’t referenced at all, while other events are told 2-3 times over from the perspective of different narrators, all of them undependable. Don’t pick this up unless you’re willing to invest a LOT of effort into figuring out what’s going on.
I’m sure hoping Faulkner’s intent in writing this was to shock, as the plot is still morally appalling now, 70 years after the initial publication date. College party girl Temple Drake falls into the hands of a triumvirate of creepy gangsters, one of whom rapes her with her corncob. The next morning one of the three (halfwit Tommy) is dead, Temple’s disappeared, and Horace Benbow, disenchanted Memphis lawyer, is hired to defend Lee Goodwin, one of the two remaining gangsters, against charges of murder. Eventually Temple reappears to tell her story, but by that time this happens her story doesn’t much matter and you probably won’t care, because you (like the characters in the story) will have figured out that this isn’t the kind of story in which justice prevails. In fact, this isn’t the sort of tale in which justice even figures.
If the novel’s unrelenting dark mood doesn’t give it away, then the moral turpitude of every single actor in the drama should. Seriously, EVERYONE in this novel is flawed, some appallingly so: Temple has a fatal attraction for bad boys and doesn’t mind incriminating an innocent man to save her reputation; her beau Gowan, a supposed “gentleman” out of UVA, is a drunkard who literally abandons her to the depravity of the gangsters; Goodwin’s a criminal with a devoted ex-whore for a wife and a ghastly half-alive infant they keep in a box behind the stove so the rats won’t get to it; gangster #2, Popeye, is the impotent, sadistic son of a syphilitic mother; Horace Benbow, Goodwin’s lawyer, has abandoned his wife and is *way* too into his stepdaughter; odious state senator Clarence Snopes doesn’t mind selling information related to Goodwin’s innocence to the highest bidder; Narcissa, Benbow’s sister, is a shrew; and the fair residents of Jefferson aren’t above a cozy lynching between friends. This is a story about the triumph of evil over good, the conquest of moral depravity over respectability, and good luck finding any Sanctuary anywhere, because all of the institutions that are supposed to provide protection from the evils depicted herein – modesty, courage, honor, honesty, love, faithfulness, religion, family, and the rule of law – have been corrupted.
Silly me! Who needs the traditional horrors of the gothic trope – ghosts, dungeons, mad monks – when the real world is full of so much more depravity? All I know is that Sanctuary may be the novel that puts me off of gothics forever.
This is one of the worst books I’ve ever read. It’s slow, dull, tedious, irritating, and devoid of excitement. At no point was I engaged with the plot or
This novel was certainly one of the easiest novels of Faulkner's to read -- almost no stream-of-consciousness writing (it does pop up in a few scenes) and a fairly linear plot. If you have been afraid to try his books, this one might be a good place to start, but be prepared to meet a bunch of very unpleasant people! Yet out of all the criminals (moonshiners, prostitutes, etc.), corrupt officials and mean-spirited townspeople in the book, I think Horace's sister Narcissa may have been the character I disliked the most.
I had to put this book down, reading it for the second time, halfway through. The characters are too repugnant for words, constantly using the n-word. I don't give a damn for any