10 NOVEMBER 1990, Page 30

Better apart

Sir: Piers Paul Read uses his review of Lawrence Stone's The Road to Divorce (13 October) to advance a subtle yet reaction- ary defence of marriage at any cost, even when pathologically bad. He suggests that when partners separate to `pursue their own happiness, they . . . almost inevitably [bring] misery on their children'. But can it possibly be better for children to see their parents fight night after night, or freeze the atmosphere of the household with angry silences or barking recriminations which threaten (or even result in) violence?

Separation of parents may be a relief to children who have experienced the effects of a bad marriage over many years. And even when such effects are muffled by `civilised' acts of repression, the sensitive child may be more damaged by observing the loathing under the veneer than by dividing his time between parents who have decided to end a condition of institu- tionalised hatred and, while perhaps pur- chasing their own happiness (but more likely simply trying to carry on), pay attention to the child's happiness more than they could when overwhelmed by their own misery.

Stoddard Martin

University of Lodi, Narutowicza 79M31, Lodi, Poland