Charles Marlow

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Charles Marlow
Created by Joseph Conrad
Gender Male
Nationality British

Charles Marlow is a recurring character in the work of Polish-born English novelist Joseph Conrad. Marlow is an alter ego of Conrad; both are sailors for the British Empire during the late 19th and early 20th centuries during the height of British imperialism.

Marlow narrates several of Conrad's best-known works such as the novels Lord Jim and Chance, as well as the framed narrative in Heart of Darkness, and his short story Youth. The stories are not told entirely from Marlow's perspective, however. There is also an omniscient narrator who introduces Marlow and some of the other characters. Once introduced, Marlow then proceeds to tell the actual tale, creating a story-within-a-story effect.

In Heart of Darkness the omniscient narrator observes that "yarns of seamen have a direct simplicity, the whole meaning of which lies within the shell of a cracked nut. But Marlow was not typical [...] and to him the meaning of an episode was not inside like a kernel but outside, enveloping the tale which brought it out only as a glow brings out a haze."[1]


Marlow's name may be inspired by the Elizabethan playwright Christopher Marlowe. Conrad's father was a translator of William Shakespeare who doubtless would have known of Marlowe's work as well. Some intertextual interpretations of Heart of Darkness have suggested that Marlowe's The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus may have influenced Conrad. Charles Marlow describes a character as a "papier-mache Mephistopheles", a reference to the Faust legend. Marlow's and Kurtz's journey up the Congo River in Heart of Darkness also has similarities to another work by Marlowe, Dido, Queen of Carthage, in which Aeneas is stranded on the shore of Libya and meets the African queen Dido.[2]



  • Orr, Leonard; Billy, Ted (1999), A Joseph Conrad Companion, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, ISBN 0-313-29289-2 
  • Ray, Sid (June 2006), "Marlow(e)'s Africa: postcolonial queenship in Conrad's Heart of Darkness and Marlowe's Dido, Queen of Carthag", Conradiana 
  • Stape, John Henry (1996), The Cambridge Companion to Joseph Conrad, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-48484-7