Wilde Man

Brett Kolles presents on Oscar Wilde at Yale University

Brett Kolles

Brett Kolles is a national authority on the Irish writer, poet and playwright, Oscar Wilde. That’s why Kolles, an English and business communications instructor at Dakota County Technical College, accepted an invitation from Yale University this past September to give a presentation called “Another Wilde Irony: Press Relations and the Commodification of Oscar Wilde” during the Research Society for Victorian Periodicals Annual Conference.

RSVP is a global association of scholars from various disciplines who explore and analyze the media of the 19th century, including magazines and press. Members are immersed in the study of British literature, history and culture. Oscar Wilde ranks as one of the most illustrious wordsmiths (and PR wizards) of the Victorian era. The 2010 conference was titled “The Material Cultures of Periodicals.”

“One thing that always piqued my interest was how clever Oscar Wilde was,” said Kolles, who spoke at Linsly-Chittenden Hall on Yale’s New Haven, Conn., campus. “He knew how to work the newspapers like there was no tomorrow. This guy was way ahead of his time.”

Oscar Wilde

Kolles has a master’s degree in English from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn. He also earned his master’s in Business Communications and a B.A. in journalism from St. Thomas, where he currently teaches critical writing. In 2005, he won the University of St. Thomas Fellowship Award.

He has presented at several literary conferences around the country, including the Arts and Humanities Conference in Honolulu, Hawaii, the Victorian Conference in Richmond, Va., and the Humanities Conference at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Ill.

During the RSVP Conference at Yale, Kolles served on a panel covering Trends of the 1890s. His fellow panelists were:

  • Chair: Carol Martin (Boise State University)
  • Gary Beegan (Rutgers University)
    • “Spatial Practices in the Periodicals of the 1890s”
  • Alexis Easley (University of St. Thomas)
    • “Approximating the Material Text: Facsimiles of Handwriting in the Strand”

Kolles opened his presentation as follows: “Today when we hear the name ‘Oscar Wilde,’ we ready ourselves for a little levity, an insightful quip or an epigram of disarming irreverence. Such is the masterful name association Oscar Wilde was able to create over a century ago. Wilde was a London playwright, social performer, poet and public speaker whose life ended in tragedy. However, the genius of his media relations is manifested by the enduring ‘trademark’ status of his name: One that connotes cleverness and not calamity.”

Scandal and imprisonment eventually dismantled Wilde’s life. He died from cerebral meningitis at age 46, but his name remains a lodestar in the study of literature and other fields, including communications and marketing.

Oscar Wilde

Kolles concluded his presentation with the idea that Wilde exited the world undiminished and certain of his legacy: “But even in his darkest hour, dying in a cheap Parisian hotel, Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde would mutter to his friend Robert Ross, ‘My name has two ‘O’s,’ two ‘F’s’ and two ‘W’s.’ A name which is destined to be in everybody’s mouth must not be too long. It comes so expensive in the advertisements.” Much can be inferred by Wilde’s final quip. If one is to take his words at face value, one can deduce that Wilde took some satisfaction in comprehending his self-marketing legacy. In Wilde’s own final analysis, his life’s contributions would not be minimized to that of simple social iconoclasm nor would his achievements be forever overshadowed by scandal. Quite contrarily, Oscar Wilde most likely considered himself to be both a creator and product of Victorian commoditization.”

The Commodification of Oscar Wilde 2010 RSVP Conference–Yale University

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Brett Kolles by Harkness Tower at Yale University