Welcome to my page of quotations about hair suddenly turning white from trauma, stress, fright, grief, etc. — also known as Marie Antoinette Syndrome, or scientifically speaking, canities subita or sudden hair blanching. Medical authorities claim this is not a real thing, but literary accounts are fun to read. Great heartfelt thanks to Francis Jacox for hints he left behind of where to seek in literature for several of these excerpts. Enjoy the quotes!
Care does its bleaching work at comparative leisure, by a chronic process: it anticipates time, but it takes its own time in doing so. Whereas terror attacks in the acute, not chronic, form; effecting its wicked will by one midnight frost, at one fell swoop. ~Francis Jacox (1825–1897), “About the White Hairs that Come of Care or Terror,” Recreations of a Recluse, 1870
What shock had stricken her hair, in the very maturity of its luxuriance, with the hue of an unnatural old age? Was it a serious illness, or a dreadful grief, that had turned her grey in the prime of her womanhood? ~Wilkie Collins
My hair is grey, but not with years,
Nor grew it white
In a single night,
As men’s have grown from sudden fears.
A sudden frost was sprinkled on his head. ~Alexander Pope [said of Odysseus, by the hand of Athenè
Worcester is stolen away to‑night; thy father’s
beard is turned white with the news…
~William Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part I [II, 4, Falstaff]
D’Andelot, Governor of Saint Quentin was one day sitting at home full of grief at the death of his brother, whom was put to death as an accomplice: he had been leaning his head on his hand, at the place where the hair was now white, and when he rose, those who were with him thought the changed colour was flour, which by some chance had fallen upon those parts. It has remained so ever since. ~Montaigne [a little altered
Danger, long travel, want or woe,
Soon change the form that best we know—
For deadly fear can time outgo,
And blanch at once the hair.
~Walter Scott, Marmion
That was a dreadful voyage, Jacob, and turned one-third of my hair grey. ~Captain Marryat
Those shocks of passion can prepare
That kill the bloom before its time;
And blanch, without the owner’s crime,
The most resplendent hair.
~William Wordsworth, “Lament of Mary Queen of Scots” [On the Eve of a New Year. 1827 version. Composed 1817, published 1820.
The different passions have a remarkable influence over the internal substance of the hair. In a very short space of time grief will often alter its colour, and convert it into white…. It is said, that fright will make the hair stand upright. Fear has so powerful an effect upon the hair, it actually produces motion. ~Marie-François-Xavier Bichat (1771–1802), “System of the Hair,” translated from the last French edition by Constant Coffyn, 1824 [a little altered
With his recovered reason came his first grey hair, and in one fortnight it was all as white as snow. ~Charles Reade
Was stricken out for ever from her cheek,
For ever and at once; and in a night,
Strange freak of suffering, and yet true, one lock
Of her rich hair, and one alone, was blanched,
And gleam’d among her auburn tresses dark
In signal contrast, like the first snow-flake
That nestles on a copper beech-tree’s bough.
Ye winds!… Upon the Deep we are astray.
On our wild hearts this fell like a blight;
In one short hour my hair was striken grey,
For all the crew sank ghastly in my sight
As we went driving on through the cold starry night.
~Alexander Smith [a little altered