In the context of Faulkner's career, the Benbows are one of Yoknapatawpha's very 'first families,' along with the Snopeses and the Sartorises. In 1927 or 1928, when he put aside the "Father Abraham" manuscript about the rise of the Snopeses in the New South to write Flags in the Dust about the displacement of the county's old aristocracy, he divided the novel's focus between young Bayard Sartoris and Horace Benbow, descended respectively from planters and lawyers. Over the course of his career Faulkner's imagination returned much more often to the Sartorises and the Snopeses, but as the protagonist of Sanctuary (1931) Horace Benbow is actually the first recurring major character in his canon . Horace and his sister Narcissa are the third or fourth generation of Benbows in Yoknapatawpha. The house where they live in 20th-century Jefferson was built in the 1840s "by an English architect," establishing the family's place both chronologically and socially among the county's antebellum founders (163). The novel refers briefly to their parents, Will and Julia, and to an earlier ancestor named Francis, who returned to town from Barbados in 1871 (164). Later fictions refer to a Judge Benbow; we are assuming he is Francis' father and the man for whom the house was built, but he could be Francis himself. Yet compared to the care with which Faulkner identifies the various Sartorises over the same historical span, the story of the Benbows is gestured to rather than told. That they live in town, that the earliest ancestor is a Judge, that Horace practices law in his father's law office, that while the family owned slaves no Benbow is said to have served during the Civil War - all these details distinguish them from Sartorises, Compsons, McCaslins and Sutpens, but don't tell us much about the family on its own terms.

The most developed relationship is the sibling one between Horace and Narcissa, which in Flags is so close and conflicted as to suggest the idea of incest. They go down different paths, however. Horace marries a woman whose pretensions are aristocratic but whose origins are bourgeois and whose behavior is identified with the New rather than the Old South. Narcissa marries Bayard. This class-appropriate marriage could be seen as providing a future for both families, and that is clearly what Narcissa has in mind when she names the child who is born at the end of Flags "Benbow Sartoris." Along with his mother, he is living on the Sartoris plantation in Sanctuary and "There Was a Queen" (1933), a short story in which Faulkner returns to wrap up elements of Flags. But after that, except for a few passing references to Judge Benbow, a Percy Benbow, Narcissa and Benbow Sartoris, Faulkner drops the family almost completely. And as far as the Yoknapatawpha saga goes, Benbow Sartoris is the last of both the Benbows and the Sartorises.

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Benbow Family Biography