"Marlow sat cross-legged"
An anonymous portrait in Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, believed to show Christopher Marlowe (1585)
Public DomainAn anonymous portrait in Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, believed to show Christopher Marlowe (1585) - Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Conrad's only recurring character, Charles Marlow, narrates several of the writer's best-known stories, including Lord Jim (1900), Chance (1913), and 'Youth'.  Like Conrad a sailor for the British Empire during the late 19th and early 20th century, Marlow is widely considered to be Conrad's alter ego.

The name may have been inspired by the Elizabethan playwright Christopher Marlowe. Some critics suggest references to the Faust legend in Heart of Darkness reveal the influence of Marlowe's The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus (1604); the journey up the Congo River may also have similarities to another work by Marlowe, Dido, Queen of Carthage (1594).

 

Further reading:

Bernard J. Paris, Conrad's Charlie Marlow: A New Approach to "Heart of Darkness" and Lord Jim (2005)

Paul Wake, Conrad's Marlow: Narrative and Death in "Youth," "Heart of Darkness," Lord Jim, and Chance (2008)