This essay explores “distant reading,” first, as a project of studying genre at supratextual scales of analysis (from early conceptions to computationalist successors) and, second, through the prescient late Victorian literary persona with which the latter practices intersect. A Study in Scarlet, the novella that introduced Sherlock Holmes, offers the first meditation on distant reading. A split double plot that anticipates generic fissures within crime fiction broadly conceived, A Study in Scarlet creates a data-centric detective intelligence in dialogue with late Victorian statistical innovations that remain central to machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) today. Doyle’s generically split novella shows that the charismatic detective who dominates its first part is the merely partial virtuoso of a limited form. As such, A Study in Scarlet invites us to contemplate and clarify the humanistic stakes of machine “reading” during what some AI commentators conceive as a fourth industrial revolution.

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