At the base of Fitzjohn’s Avenue, just before it begins its long slope up toward the Heath above it, there is a towering bronze statue of Sigmund Freud. He is sitting down but leaning forward, peering out at passersby with a glowering intensity. The statue serves as a notification of sorts: You have arrived in Hampstead, one of the world’s last few remaining psychoanalytic neighborhoods, unofficial though the designation may be. It is to Hampstead, North London’s tranquil suburb, that Freud came in 1938, fleeing post-Anschluss Vienna with his family.
In Hampstead, he was surrounded by loyalists and heretics. Even if Freud was psychoanalysis’s founding father, his honorary children were far from uniformly obedient: They were constantly coming up with their own ideas about the human mind, a dangerous habit that could lead to exile, and often did. Physical proof of this sits 20 feet or so beyond Freud’s statue: the Tavistock Centre, a boxlike structure, lurking gracelessly among the avenue’s comely red-brick houses. The Tavi—to those in the know—is Kleinian, which is to say, founded on the groundbreaking ideas of Melanie Klein, the Viennese psychoanalyst who had moved to London in the 1920s and continued her work with young children, breaking with Freud on the question of when the major psychological conflicts of early childhood begin. Yes, this is the part of London where you are most likely to hear the phrase “the Oedipus complex” spoken with grave sincerity.
By the time Freud arrived in the neighborhood, the schism with Klein and her followers was nearly complete. Yet there is a certain irony in the fact that the Tavistock is located a mere two blocks from Maresfield Gardens, the epicenter of all things Freud. It is on Maresfield Gardens, a hushed, leafy street, that Freud and his daughter Anna established themselves. Anna Freud, a pioneering child analyst, established the Hampstead clinic for children across the street, a clinic that operates today as the Anna Freud Centre.
This and more is the history on display at what is now the Freud Museum (20 Maresfield Gardens; freud.org.uk), the house where father and daughter lived throughout the final year of his life, and she for the next four decades of hers. On the ground level, in Freud’s consulting room, where he saw his patients and displayed his statues of ancient gods and goddesses, beats the heart of the whole enterprise: Freud’s couch, shipped from Vienna when he left. It had been a gift from a grateful patient, Madame Benvenisti. And here it remains, just as he left it, covered in sumptuous Persian rugs and pillows, exactly the same but for the ropes set out to protect it from visitors eager to glimpse the piece of furniture that revolutionized the way we understand each other, and ourselves.