Places: Sanctuary

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1931

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Melodrama

Time of work: 1929

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedYoknapatawpha County

Yoknapatawpha SanctuaryCounty (YOK-nuh-puh-TAW-fuh). Faulkner’s mythical county, which is a setting in several of his works. The Old Frenchman’s Place is an abandoned plantation house deep in the county, which has been taken over by bootleggers. The violent actions that set the plot of the novel in motion–arguments, fights, a rape, and a murder–occur in and around the old house and barn. Faulkner contrasts this violence and the unsavory nature of most of the characters with the beauty of the natural surroundings, to which the bootleggers are insensitive. Thus, place becomes an integral part of the plot, especially in the contrast between the natural world and what mankind has made of the environment. Characters in the novel associated with the city of Memphis tend to be evil, or at least amoral, while those closer to nature (Horace Benbow, for example) tend to be virtuous–or at least to make an attempt to be. Old abandoned houses are recurrent elements in gothic fiction, and the plantation house, now put to a new purpose, serves as the setting for the events of the plot.


*Memphis. Tennessee city across the state line from Mississippi that is portrayed as something of a “sin city” in Sanctuary, and it is true that there was considerable crime in that city at the time of the story. Mulberry Street reflects a real downtown thoroughfare in Memphis, in which the red-light district was located. Such houses are another standard trapping of gothic fiction. Significantly, it is in this house on Mulberry Street that Horace Benbow confronts the fact that evil exists as a real force in his world.


Jefferson. Town in the northwestern corner of the state of Mississippi. Faulkner drew many details from Oxford, his hometown, for his portrayal of Jefferson, although he altered it to suit his needs. Both towns are set in the hills of northeastern Mississippi, which was settled in the first half of the nineteenth century by British, Scottish, and Welsh immigrants who had migrated from Virginia or the Carolinas. Faulkner makes much of the parallels between Jefferson and the real Oxford, but he also draws details from other northern Mississippi towns to round out his creation. He employs specific locations within the town, the courthouse and jail, which also figure in the sequel to this novel, Requiem for a Nun (1951).

Sartoris plantation

Sartoris plantation. Farm on the outskirts of Jefferson built by Colonel John Sartoris and inhabited during the time of the events in Sanctuary by his sister, elderly Virginia DuPre; Narcissa, the widow of the colonel’s great-grandson; Benbow, the child of Bayard and Narcissa; and several black servants. The old house represents the Old South and is a decided contrast to the house in which the bootleggers have established their business. The Sartoris plantation is no longer active, as it was in Faulkner’s Sartoris (1929), and it may be on the way to being abandoned, just as the Old Frenchman’s Place has been.


*Oxford. Town in northeastern Mississippi in which the University of Mississippi (“Ole Miss”) is located. Temple Drake is a coed there, and although the town is not named in the novel, its description and the physical details resemble Oxford. It is a decided irony that Faulkner uses both Oxford and Jefferson in this novel, since his mythical Jefferson is actually based on Oxford, his hometown.


*Taylor. Small village, still in existence, south of Oxford, where Temple goes by train for her tryst with Gowan Stevens, an illicit act that is the impetus for the subsequent violence of the novel.

BibliographyBassett, John, ed. William Faulkner: The Critical Heritage. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1975. Ninety-four critical reviews and essays on Faulkner including eight on Sanctuary, all written within two years of the publishing of Sanctuary.Brooks, Cleanth. William Faulkner: The Yoknapatawpha Country. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1963. Contains chapters on most of the Faulkner novels and a section comparing Sanctuary and Requiem for a Nun, calling them Faulkner’s discovery of evil. One of the most helpful and accessible books for information on Faulkner.Clarke, Deborah. Robbing the Mother: Women in Faulkner. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1994. Argues that female sexuality threatens a male-dominated cultural order in Sanctuary. Delineates women in Faulkner’s novels and finds women treated poorly. Some reference to the women in Faulkner’s life.Dowling, David. William Faulkner. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1989. Includes a chronology and sections describing the major works completed during different periods in Faulkner’s life. History of Yoknapatawpha County, extended bibliography, and index. Finds Sanctuary to be the darkest of all of Faulkner’s novels and compares it to the other Faulkner novels of the 1930’s.Page, Sally R. Faulkner’s Women: Characterization and Meaning. Deland, Fla.: Everett/ Edwards, 1972. A survey of the women characters in Faulkner’s novels, with attention to their individuality and the stereotypes they represent. Finds that Faulkner depicts women favorably.
Categories: Places