Borneo breakdown

In 1959, Anthony Burgess was teaching a class at Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien College in Brunei Town when he suddenly appeared to undergo some sort of personal crisis. He lay down on the floor and ‘let other agencies take over’, refusing to speak.

Burgess writes in his autobiography:

I was teaching one morning when the end of my colonial career was signalled. The class was Form Four, the subject the Boston Tea Party; the fans were not working and it was rumoured that a female cobra was looking for her young in the corridor outside. At the end of the lesson I felt I had also come to the end of my tether. A great deal of tension had been building up — a dissatisfied wife, a libel action, Australians who called me a pommy bastard, a disordered liver, dyspepsia and dyspnoea which morning droplets of Axe oil did nothing to alleviate, a very large measure of simple frustration. I had done my best; I could do no more: let other agencies take over. I lay on the classroom floor and closed my eyes.

There was prompt action. The principal, Bradshaw, appeared, and he summoned strong Malays. I was taken to the local hospital.

I felt well enough now but maintained my passivity: passivity from now on would be the answer to everything. Lying down on the classroom floor had been an act of purgation or reconciliation or something.


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