Sanctuary (Text Key 220)


William Faulkner wrote Sanctuary the first time during the first five months of 1929, at virtually the same time his third novel, Sartoris, appeared and during the revision of his fourth, The Sound and the Fury. His publisher, however, declined to publish the version of the book Faulkner sent him, declaring it was too salacious to be saleable. Faulkner then wrote As I Lay Dying at the end of that year, and after its publication the troubled publisher decided to issue the previously rejected Sanctuary. When Faulkner got the galley proofs of the novel, he decided to revise it, and he did so extensively over a period of about two months. That version of the novel appeared on 9 February 1931 and sold extremely well; it remained his best-selling novel for many years, in part because of its scandalous subjects and themes. The text of the original (unrevised) novel, edited by Noel Polk, appeared in 1981; Polk also edited the published version in the series of corrected texts issued by Modern Library and Random House/Vintage International. The text of the Vintage edition is the basis for our re-presentation of the novel.

Dating the Story: By beginning Sanctuary with Horace Benbow coming back to Jefferson and going to stay with his sister Narcissa at the Sartoris place, Faulkner sets the novel up as a kind of sequel to his first Yoknapatawpha fiction, Flags in the Dust, published as Sartoris. That novel ends in the late spring of 1920, with Horace and his new wife moving out of Jefferson and Narcissa giving birth to Benbow "Bory" Sartoris. Since in Sanctuary Horace says he's been married for "ten years" (17) and the narrator says Bory is "ten years old" (23), a good case can be made for dating the events of this novel in 1930. But early in Sanctuary’s critical history, Cleanth Brooks dated its present tense in 1929 (William Faulkner: The Yoknapatawpha Country, 1963). More recent commentators mostly agree with that choice (see Edwin T. Arnold and Dawn Trouard, Reading Faulkner: Sanctuary, 1996). The strongest corroborating evidence for 1929 are the very definite dates and days of the week that appear in the text. Tommy is murdered and Temple raped, for example, on Sunday, 12 May — a date that appears on calendars for 1929 but not 1930. Faulkner wrote the bulk of the original Sanctuary in 1929, and it was his habit to situate the present tense of his fictions near his own present time. While he did substantially revise the book at the galley stage, he did not change the dates and days of the week in the original text. Therefore, our chronology uses 1929 as the year in which most of Sanctuary takes place.

After making Horace Benbow a major character in two of his first four Yoknapatawpha fictions, Faulkner never came back to him. But two decades later he did pick up the story of Temple Drake and Gowan Stevens, which seems to end so completely and disastrously early on in Sanctuary. Temple and Gowan, as wife and husband, are major characters in Requiem for a Nun (1951).

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Jonathan Cape and Harrison Smith
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New York
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Vintage International
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New York
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How to cite this resource:
Railton, Stephen, Ben Robbins, and Theresa M. Towner. "Faulkner's Sanctuary." Added to the project: 2014.  Additional editing: 2020 Stephen Railton; 2023 Theresa M. Towner. Digital Yoknapatawpha, University of Virginia,