Is The Wonder’s Will Byrne Based on an Actual Journalist?

Image Credit: Christopher Barr/Netflix

Netflix’s period film ‘The Wonder’ follows Anna O’Donnell, an eleven-year-old Irish girl, who survives without food for four months. Anna’s astounding ability to live without food astounds the folks of her village, who arrive at her house to see her. Soon, Anna garners immense attention from international newspapers. After Elizabeth “Lib” Wright’s arrival in the Irish village to look after Anna, Will Byrne, an English journalist working for the Daily Telegraph, ends up at the place to write a story about the girl. Since Will plays an integral role in Anna’s future, we have found out whether he has a real-life counterpart. Let us share our findings!

Will Byrne is a Fictional Character

Will Byrne is not based on any particular journalist. The character was conceived by Emma Donoghue for her novel ‘The Wonder,’ the source novel of the film. Donoghue was inspired by the real-life fasting girls, a group of unconnected young Victorian-era girls who allegedly survived without any food for indefinitely long periods. Donoghue wrote her novel after researching about almost fifty fasting girls and their life stories. In reality, the girls garnered startling attention from the press as several reporters wrote story after story about them. The same reporters must have collectively inspired Donoghue to conceive Will.

Image Credit: Aidan Monaghan/Netflix

“In researching the novel I looked at almost fifty of them, which ranged from Ireland and Britain, to Western Europe, to the USA and Canada, from the 1500s right through to the 1900s,” Donoghue told Pan Macmillan. “I thought it said a lot about what it’s meant to be a girl – in many Western countries, from the sixteenth century right through to the twentieth – that these girls became celebrities by not eating. Paradoxically, they got power – attention, fame, sometimes fortune – by being weak and self-sacrificial, the ultimate in meek femininity,” the novelist added. The Fasting Girls received the aforementioned fame and attention after several journalists, like Will Byrne, had started to write numerous features about them.

One of the real-life fasting girls who resemble Anna is Sarah Jacob, who allegedly lived around two years without any food. Sarah was the subject of newspaper stories one after the other, which paved the way for her fame and recognition as “the Welsh Fasting Girl.” Mollie Fancher, another fasting girl who supposedly abstained from eating food for years, was another fasting girl who gained astounding attention from the press. Newspaper reporters of her time referred to her as the “Brooklyn Enigma.” Donoghue might have conceived Will to represent the press frenzy that revolved around fasting girls in reality.

A newspaper article about Sarah Jacob//Image Credit: BBC News

In addition, Will is also the agent of rationalism in the narrative and Anna’s life. When the villagers blindly believe that Anna is a living miracle, the journalist unflinchingly expresses that the little girl is eating food somehow. His rationalistic beliefs seemingly influence Lib Wright to not blindly believe Anna’s explanation that her life is sustained by the manna from heaven. When Lib tries her best to rescue Anna from the O’Donnells and the villagers, Will also extends his support to her. Will symbolizes rationalism and empathy, which helps Anna and Lib immensely.

Read More: Who is the Woman in Black in the End? Who is the Narrator of The Wonder?