by William Faulkner

Other authorsNone (Illustrator)
Paperback, 1931

Call number




vintage Books (1931), Edition: Vintage Book # V381


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.

User reviews

LibraryThing member tsutsik
If you are born poor in the USA you lose, especially if you were born in the 1920's in the Deep South. Upper middle class girl Temple Drake -daughter of a judge- and her alcoholic boyfriend get mixed op with some poor white trash family in their search for alcohol, which finally results in the
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death of an innocent man. I am starting to like Faulkner, this is a really good book, in which he unequivocally chooses sides. Ruby, common law wife of army veteran Goodwin, sketches a damning portrait of Temple and her class: ,,Honest women. Too good to have anything to do with common people. [...] Take all you can get, and give nothing.''
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LibraryThing member kambrogi
This grim tale of rape, prejudice and cowardice in small-town Mississippi is written in Faulkner’s brilliant style: equal parts brutal realism and transcendent lyricism, so beautiful and so deep that I often stopped going forward and drowned in a line or a paragraph that took me someplace else
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entirely. When I came up for air, however, I barreled forward because I really had to know what was going to happen. I am astonished at how well this still plays, 76 years since it was first published, especially as its original intention was to satisfy the tastes of the then-contemporary pulp fiction market. Even at his worst, Faulkner is the best.
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LibraryThing member Jen7r
This book is one of Faulkner's most accessible, but it is not the poorer because of it. On the contrary, it shows the variety of styles that Faulkner was able to succeed at. Even though this book is fairly straightforward storytelling, it still contains many of Faulkner's favorite themes:
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obsession, dissolution, perversion, alcoholism, and just plain ol' bad behavior in the context of male and female relations.

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.
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LibraryThing member scottjpearson
Sanctuary, one of Faulkner’s early novels, focuses on the dark side of Southern society in post-Civil-War America. It is one of Faulkner’s more readable works. It’s a more straightforward crime mystery that is still based on the convoluted Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi.

Like many
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(most/all?) of Faulkner’s characters, they appear aimless and uprooted from life. While in college, the daughter of a judge is raped and is kidnapped to Memphis. She eventually becomes a sex slave in a brothel.

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.
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LibraryThing member nbmars
For many years, William Faulkner was my favorite fiction author. I loved the challenge of trying to figure out just what was going on in his stories. (His technique of referring to a character as “him” or “her” without further identification until much later in the narrative has been
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adopted by Cormac McCarthy, another of my favorites.)

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.

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LibraryThing member jeanphilli
Like most Faulkner I had to reread sections to get what was happening. The sense of foreboding is so heavy that I missed some obvious things. At least 6 fascinating characters, richly developed in a short book. Loved it.
LibraryThing member ursula
Apparently this was pretty controversial when it was published in 1931 because of its subjects of kidnapping and rape. I can see why.

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
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qualities, and the one that did exist was only there to be the receptacle of cruelty and injustice. And the "victim" of the aforementioned kidnapping, etc., isn't even the one I'm talking about. All-around ugly.
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LibraryThing member figre
The blurb on the back of this edition states "Faulkner claimed to have written Sanctuary for the money (an assertion disputed by his fiends) after the disappointing sales of The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying". It goes on to quote Faulkner as saying "I took a little time out, and speculated
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what a person in Mississippi would believe to be current trends, chose what I thought was the right answer and invented the most horrific tale I could imagine."

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.
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LibraryThing member AliceAnna
I am really growing to DETEST William Faulkner. What good is it writing something that has to be studied to be understood. This arcane, inaccessible piece of crap lies in juxtaposition to the wonderful stories of Eudora Welty that I'm reading right now. Welty is a far superior writer and I will
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continue to consider her the best Mississippi writer ever. There is absolutely nothing enjoyable about Faulkner. Reading Sanctuary was a chore to be gotten through rather than something to be enjoyed and savored. Blech!
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LibraryThing member lola_leviathan
I totally missed the rape scene, oops. Supposedly this was Faulkner's sensational potboiler, which is why everybody is always touting its literary merit.
LibraryThing member laytonwoman3rd
Faulkner claimed he wrote this book to be a shocker, in order to make some money from writing. But when it came to actually publishing it, he completely rewrote it, ending with a book still dark and shocking, but now much more than mere pulp. The Library of America's Crime Novels American Noir
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describes its contents as exploring "themes of crime, guilt, deception, obssessive passion, murder and the disintegrating psyche." All perfectly descriptive of Sanctuary as well, a powerful novel about a sorry lot of people.
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LibraryThing member katydid-it
I must admit that I find Faulkner difficult to read. His narrative style requires a lot of focus and concentration. However, this novel is worth it. The dark, brooding sense of the Southern Gothic is readily apparent. You can almost feel the spanish moss dripping off the trees.
LibraryThing member Pretear
A corn cob? Hmm... I've been told I'll have to re-read this to actually understand what's going on.
LibraryThing member jburlinson
Nabokov called this Faulkner's "corn cobby fantasy." I think he meant to be dismissive in some way.
LibraryThing member hbergander
Novel rich in content, written in the style of pulp fiction, about female sexuality, racism, and perversion in the American South of the twenties.
LibraryThing member Dorritt
Picked up Sanctuary because I was in a gothic frame of mind and this seemed to have all the right elements: a mouldering old house in the country, mentally deficient bootleggers, jaded women, judgmental women, a Virginia gentleman with a fatal flaw, corrupt small town politicians, broken marriages,
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gangsters, speakeasies, whorehouses, and a murder mystery that remains mysterious right up to the end of the tale. Little did I comprehend just how much horror Faulkner could manage to spin out of these ingredients.

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.
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LibraryThing member villemel
Faulkner's signature style is ever-present in this short novel. But like many an opera he seems to have sacrificed understanding at the price of drama. The plot emerges too late in the book for feeling for the characters to take hold, and then finishes as abruptly as it began. It's a challenging
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read, as with most of his other work, and perhaps the focus was so tightly aligned with the times, that what was contemporary social criticism has now become museum relic. It takes nothing away from this work as a piece of writing, but without a link to the place or time, I guess it adds little to our understanding of each other.
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LibraryThing member datrappert
Perhaps Faulkner's seediest, most depressing novel--at least of the ones I have read. It isn't as difficult to read as "Absalom Absalom" or "The Sound and the Fury", but it lacks the profundities and rewards of those books.
LibraryThing member gayla.bassham
Very, very dark. More accessible than the Faulkner of The Sound and the Fury. But the depravity of many of the characters in this book is just as distancing as the difficult diction and sentence structure in other books.
LibraryThing member PhilSyphe
I see that, according to most other reviews, I am among the few who can’t understand why “Sanctuary” or its author are so highly rated.

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
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drawn to any of the characters.
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LibraryThing member ThomasPluck
To Kill a Mockingbird without white savior bullshit.
LibraryThing member leslie.98
Hmmm... what to say about this novel? I can see why Faulkner referred to it as a pot-boiler but, as with some other wonderful writers (Graham Greene for example), it is so well-written that it is something more than just a crime story. And what a crime story! I would put it in the category of
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"Brighton Rock" or perhaps classic film noir -- there is no real hero (even Horace Benbow has his flaws, the most objectionable being his lusting after his step-daughter). The chapter near the end about Popeye's upbringing struck me as very modern -- something I would expect to see in a psychological thriller by Ruth Rendell.

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.
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LibraryThing member hellbent
This character Popeye was difficult to figure out at first, but the plot accelerates and finishes well. Supposedly Faulkner just wrote this to make money and succeeded.
LibraryThing member burritapal
Confusing, at times, to figure out what is going on with who. Still, towards the end, becomes engrossing.

8/29/21 reread
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
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of these characters. I don't know if I'll ever read a William Faulkner book again. He must have had contacts in the publishing business to even get published.
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