"you seem to regard it merely as an experience that will whiten your hair overnight so to speak without altering your appearance at all"
Marie Antoinette being taken to her execution
Public DomainMarie Antoinette being taken to her execution - Credit: William Hamilton

The belief that a severe shock, grief or fear can cause the hair to suddenly turn white can be traced back to the Talmud. Though it sounds like the stuff of folklore, this is a recognised syndrome known as Canities subita. It takes its colloquial name, Marie Antoinette syndrome, from the popular belief that Marie Antoinette’s hair turned white the day before she was led up to the guillotine. Quentin’s father is implying that Quentin approaches suicide as though it will condense all his despair into an apocalyptic crisis that will free him from torment. In that this implies he will survive to experience the catharsis, it cannot derive from a sincere desire for death.