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Her own father’s perfect exemption from any thought of the kind,the entire deficiency in him of all such sort of penetration or suspicion, was a most comfortable circumstance. Happily he was not farther from approving matrimony than from foreseeing it.—Though always objecting to every marriage that was arranged, he never suffered beforehand from the apprehension of any; it seemed as if he could not think so ill of any two persons’ understanding as to suppose they meant to marry till it were proved against them.

Chapter 2 of volume 5 of Emma by Jane Austen

I understand this part "it seemed.as if he could not think so ill of any two persons’ understanding as to suppose they meant to marry till it were proved against them." as ( he doesn't think ill of two people understanding each other, so he usually doesn't surmise that they will get married, till they get married). But the bold part still confuses me.

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  • I am not completely sure, but I think Austen is referring to the two people's intention to marry as if it were a criminal charge; criminal charges have to be proved against the person they are made against.
    – stangdon
    Aug 4, 2022 at 17:38
  • While @gotube would appear to have provided a convincing explanation - you may find that questions of this kind are better dealth with on the Literature site.
    – WS2
    Aug 4, 2022 at 17:44

1 Answer 1

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The bold expression means literally what it says. In more modern English, it might read:

until their guilt was proven

As usual, Austen is writing tongue-in-cheek. She and the audience know it isn't a crime to want to get married, but she writes as if the father believes it is criminal.

In this context, the father hates marriage and thinks poorly of the intelligence ("understanding" used to mean "intelligence") of people who want to get married. When he finds out that a couple intends to get married, it's akin to having something horrible proven about them, like a criminal history.

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  • "Happily he was not farther from approving matrimony than from foreseeing it" does this part mean ( he will at the end approve of a marriage but for him to foretell it is a long shot)
    – Ali
    Aug 4, 2022 at 17:57
  • It's hard to work out the litotes, but it means "He was even less likely to see it coming it than to approve it".
    – Colin Fine
    Aug 4, 2022 at 18:28
  • No. This part compares how much he hated marriage with how bad he was at noticing it, saying the two are equal.
    – gotube
    Aug 4, 2022 at 18:28
  • And that shows the problem with litotes, @gotube: you interpreted it as equal, I interpreted it as unequal in the opposite direction.
    – Colin Fine
    Aug 4, 2022 at 18:29
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    Today I learned a new word. li·to·tes: ironic understatement in which an affirmative is expressed by the negative of its contrary (e.g., you won't be sorry, meaning you'll be glad ). I am eager to avoid using it.
    – BillOnne
    Aug 4, 2022 at 18:38

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