Sorrow came—a gentle sorrow—but not at all in the shape of any disagreeable consciousness.—Miss Taylor married. It was Miss Taylor's loss which first brought grief. (1.5)
Any novel that centers on marriage must have an opponent to union. Mr. Woodhouse describes marriage as a form of separation, not union.
Matrimony, as the origin of change, was always disagreeable [...] (1.11)
For Mr. Woodhouse, marriage is the one agent of change which can still trouble him.
A woman is not to marry a man merely because she is asked, or because he is attached to her, and can write a tolerable letter. (7.31)
Emma, a well-off young woman, has the ability to refuse offers of marriage. Other women (like Jane and Harriet) are not so lucky.
Oh! to be sure […] it is always incomprehensible to a man that a woman should ever refuse an offer of marriage. A man always imagines a woman to be ready for any body who asks her. (8.34)
Emma frequently says things that are bitingly accurate – and completely out of context.
Fortune I do not want; employment I do not want; consequence I do not want. I believe few married women are half as much mistress of their husband's house as I am of Hartfield; and never, never could I expect to be so truly beloved and important; so always first and always right in any man's eyes as I am in my father's. (10.14)
Emma’s position is indeed enviable – at least from Harriet’s perspective. But even Harriet recognizes a hole in Emma’s plans which Emma herself can’t seem to see. Again, note how good she is at saying what she doesn’t need – not what she does.
The pain of his continued residence in Highbury, however, must certainly be lessened by his marriage. Many vain solicitudes would be prevented—many awkwardnesses smoothed by it. A Mrs.Elton would be an excuse for any change of intercourse; former intimacy might sink without remark. It would be almost beginning their life of civility again. (22.8)
Marriage almost remakes Mr. Elton completely. What seems awkward to Emma about their social exchanges changes after he comes back with a wife. Maybe Mr. Woodhouse is right about marriage changing things, after all!
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. (23.35)
For Mr. Woodhouse, marriages never seem planned – a mindset completely unlike his daughter’s!
But, my dear papa, you are no friend to matrimony; and therefore why should you be so anxious to pay your respects to a bride? […] It is encouraging people to marry if you make so much of them. (32.55)
Emma exploits the tension between Mr. Woodhouse’s fine sense of social responsibility and his selfishness in this passage. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the bride in question is Mrs. Elton!
Marriage, in fact, would not do for her. It would be incompatible with what she owed to her father, and with what she felt for him. Nothing should separate her from her father. (48.1)
Emma’ determination to stay single supposedly depends upon her father’s happiness – much like her determination to keep Mr. Knightley single supposedly expresses her concern for her nephew’s inheritance.
It is fit that the fortune should be on his side, for I think the merit will be all on hers. (48.13)
Frank and Jane’s marriage is universally seen as an unequal alliance – but not because of money. Ironically, by the end of the novel, the standards for judging marriages seem to have changed.