Well, that was a surprise. Like the writer of the Penguin edition's preface, I had been under the impression that Wuthering Heights was a great love story. Instead it's a great hate story. A likable - even tolerable - character doesn't show up before Catherine junior (we'll call her Cathy); until then we have to negotiate the milquetoast Edgar, the narcissistic and mentally unstable Catherine, the nurse Ellen, who makes Juliet's nurse look like an angel, and, of course, Heathcliff, who is possibly possessed by a demon.
Toward the end of the book we get a mirror image of the Catherine / Heathcliff relationship in Cathy and Hareton. Cathy has Edgar's sweetness and Catherine's spirit, which turns out to be a pretty good mix; and although Heathcliff tries to turn Hareton into himself, since Hareton is not possessed by a demon he just turns out rugged. While Cathy can be impetuous and cruel, like when she says "He's just like a dog...or a cart-horse" (Ch. 32), Hareton refuses to take her bait. Cathy isn't as nuts as her mother, but still, I think the point here is that Catherine might have had a chance at happiness, but was destroyed by Heathcliff's malice.
I can see why a book about awful people destroying each other might turn some folks off. But I like my coffee black, so I loved every minute of it. This is a book that knows fiercely what it is.
Whether I know what it is is another question. Wuthering Heights takes place in a dark, tiny, parallel place, like one of those rolled-up dimensions string theorists like to talk about. Whether the supernatural exists there is uncertain. The law doesn't, except abstractly. It's a more violent world than ours. I felt like an outsider there - a feeling heightened by the book's storytelling framing device, which serves (as an epistolary does) to distance the reader from the action. I don't fully understand that world - but Emily does, and she adheres scrupulously to its weird rules. It's amazingly tightly plotted and conceived. And a total page-turner, which isn't unimportant. It's black, and melodramatic, and strange, and brilliant.