(NOTE: this is somewhat spoiler-ish, in a broad way.)
I was travelling for several days over the past week, and of course needed to take some things to read. I'm about halfway through The Brothers Karamazov, and would have liked to have had it on the plane, but it's so bulky that I decided at the last minute to leave it at home and take the family Kindle instead, figuring it had at least a few things on it that I'd want to read. And that's how I ended up reading Wuthering Heights on the plane and in every spare minute.
I had read it when I was in college, partly on the very enthusiastic recommendation of a couple of friends, and been more or less indifferent to it. But this time I was completely captivated. It's a powerful story, vividly realized, and I don't hesitate to count it among the great novels.
But I'm also inclined to think it's toxic. Heathcliff is a monster, however much one may want to allow for the effect of mistreatment upon him. And his love for Catherine ceases to be any sort of love at all, and becomes a more or less satanic force, engendering only pride and malice, which are in the end rewarded. Hers for him is not much better--facing a life without him, she pines away in a manner that must be the envy of any teen-aged girls who read the novel.
I'm especially struck by the significance of the book in cultural history. The Brontë sisters were the daughters of a clergyman, but the religion manifested in this book seems to me several steps removed from Christianity, toward a sort of gnostic transcendentalism which sees the noble spirit as soaring to heights beyond the limits of ordinary people, and ultimately beyond physical reality itself. It is an open question as to whether, in the end, Heathcliff's path of destruction is justified, because he does in the end get what he wants.
This is just a first reaction, and I haven't read any criticism that might argue for a different conclusion. I'm interested in hearing the reaction of others, especially Catholics. Am I being moralistic? Not looking deeply enough?
Emily Brontë's famous poem, "No Coward Soul Is Mine," seems to support, if not entirely confirm, my view. I keep thinking of another sometime-Christian who was having similar thoughts around the same time: Ralph Waldo Emerson.