Certain novels come to you with pre-packaged expectations. They just seem to be part of literature's collective unconscious, even if they are completely outside of your own cultural referents. I, for instance, who have no particular knowledge of—or great love for—romantic, Anglo-Gothic fiction, came to Wuthering Heights with the assumption that I was picking up a melancholy ghost story of thwarted, passionate love and eternal obsession. Obsession turned out to be only accurate part of this presumption.
Having an image of Heathcliff and Cathy embracing Gone with the Wind
-style on a windy moor ironed in my mind, I was almost completely unprepared for the hermetic, moribund, bleak, vengeful, perverse, and yes—obsessive—novel that this really is. Don Quixote is not about windmills and Wuthering Heights is not really a love story. Heathcliff and Cathy's love affair (if it can be called that)is a narcissistic ("I am Heathcliff!" Cathy exclaims at one point), possessive, and imminently cruel relationship predicated on self-denial and an obsessiveness that relies not on passion, but rather borders on hatred. They are selfish, violent, and contriving people who have borne their fair share of abuses (mostly Heathcliff in this respect) and in turn, feel no compunction about raining similar abuses on those who they find beneath them.
Given this dynamic, it seems perhaps inevitable that these two characters would make not only themselves miserable, but everyone around them miserable—even after death. This is particularly easy to accomplish mainly because there are—with the exception of Mr. Lockwood, the tenant who rents a home from Heathcliff—no outside characters. Everyone in the novel (including the servants) is isolated, trapped between the same two homes, with the same two families, and have truly no chance of escaping any of the events and repercussions that occur.(One character makes a temporary escape, only to suffer all the more for it later.)
More important, however, is the fact that Heathcliff and Cathy don't even need be present (although they usually are in some fashion) for their influences to be felt by the other characters. The sins of the father, are literally, inherited and distributed among the next generation. The children of Wuthering Heights are not only physical doubles of their parents (At least 3 characters look like Cathy, and one resembles Heathcliff), but they are also spiritual stand-ins. They must suffer for past transgressions, and they must find a way to make amends for them. All, I might add, without the particular benefit of ever having the full story, the context that might be necessary to actually change their circumstances. Misery, it seems, is inevitable.
There is, of course, much more to be said about this novel. One could spend quite some time dissecting all the various repetitions and doublings, the narrative structure (the story is told by the housekeeper to the lodger who then writes it down as a diary entry), or the archetypal analogies and semi-biblical symbolism that seems to be implicit to every part of this story.
The point being, I suppose, that while Wuthering Heights may not be the wistful romance one (or maybe just I) expected to be, it is a particularly satisfying one for all of its dark and layered surprises.