So far, Wuthering Heights is much more accessible, readable, than I expected. It's a vivid book. It makes me feel like never reading another Henry James novel.
I think my reactions to this novel as I read it have been pedestrian or too conservative, which embarrasses me a little. But protagonist Catherine Earnshaw, besides being passionate and free-spirited, is the ultimate spoiled brat; Jane Austen's spoiled-rich-girl protagonist Emma is very pleasant in comparison. Despite Catherine's childish and self-centered behavior, her frequent temper tantrums, she thinks everyone loves her and is surprised to be told otherwise.
Catherine's relationship with Heathcliff should be difficult for a reader to like very much. She claims to love him, but the love is narcissistic: because Heathcliff and Catherine are very similar personalities, Catherine explicitly tells someone else that Heathcliff is
her, and it's not at all clear whether she sees Heathcliff as "other" and not as an extension of herself.
And Catherine marries Edgar Linton partly for selfish reasons: having spent time with the wealthy Linton family, she absorbs some of their more cultivated manners and becomes materialistic. She's not a character to admire, and it's harder to sympathize with her than with the tortured Heathcliff. A thought by Mrs. Dean in Volume 1, Chapter XII, describes Catherine well: "...our Catherine was no better than a wailing child!"
Heathcliff is horrible himself, but at least that can be blamed on the abuse he received from Hindley Earnshaw.
I'm also coming to the conclusion that pop culture's stereotype of Wuthering Heights as a Gothic Romeo and Juliet is largely a myth. Wuthering Heights is Gothic only in its setting, and the relationship of Catherine and Heathcliff is nothing like that of Romeo and Juliet. I consider Catherine not Gothic and Heathcliff arguably not Gothic, because there is evil in Heathcliff and violence in both of them but there is no element of horror or mystery--their behavior is too easy to understand. As I said, Catherine is a shallow, vain, self-centered wild child; there's not much more to her than that. Heathcliff is also a wild child, not necessarily as shallow as Catherine; but years of emotional agony have combined with Heathcliff's wildness to turn him into a ruthless, vengeful monster. Heathcliff's characterization has only somewhat more depth than Catherine's, because Bronte puts the reader in Heathcliff's head only enough to let the reader know he loves Catherine. The reader can only guess about the rest of Heathcliff's soul, the process of how Hindley's abuse poisoned and darkened it.
I noted an interesting reference to English culture in Chapter 31: the origin of the name and phrase "Chevy Chase." As an American, I knew only that besides being a comedian's name, it's the name of a town in Maryland; but Catherine mentions it as a name to be read in one of her books. A little research led me to find out that the name apparently originates with "The Ballad of Chevy Chase," a song originating in the area of north England on the border with Scotland (the area where Wuthering Heights is located). The word "Chevy" comes from the "chase" being a hunt for game in the Cheviot Hills on the border. Joseph Addison stated that it was "the favorite ballad of the common people of England."