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The world’s most famous sofa

07 September 2010

Which sofa is the world's most famous? And where is it located?

The answer lies in North London, at the Freud Museum, 20 Maresfield Gardens, Hampstead, London. This is where Sigmund Freud made his home (and set up his famous consulting rooms and couch), after he fled the Nazi annexation of Austria - the Anschluss - in 1938. Preserved at the museum is Freud's study, just as he left it after many years receiving patients, and located in the study is the world's most famous sofa, source of numerous complexes, butt of countless cartoons and jokes.

Like Freud, the world's most famous sofa didn't start its life in London. It began its climb to fame in Austria, in its original location at Berggasse 19 in Vienna. This was the address of Freud's original home when he was researching and devising his ground-breaking psychological theories.

The sofa itself - covered in rugs and looking comfortable, casual and inviting - is understandably famous, given its critical role in the development of psychoanalysis. What is probably much less well known is the fact that Sigmund Freud's own chair is also preserved in the study. This chair, described as having a 'green tub' design, is where he discreetly positioned himself, out of sight of his patients on the sofa, while they 'free associated'.

Psychoanalysis, free association, sofas and all the other terms commonly linked to Freudian psychoanalysis, have been a rich source of jokes for comedians, cartoonists and others for decades since, and no-one has been more active on this front than Woody Allen, a patient, student and observer of psychoanalysts - better known as shrinks - for around 40 years.

'I was in analysis. I was suicidal. As a matter of fact, I would have killed myself, but I was in analysis with a strict Freudian and if you kill yourself they make you pay for the sessions you miss.'

In a scene from "ANNIE HALL":

WOODY ALLEN: I got time. I've got nothing 'til my analyst appointment.

DIANE KEATON: Oh? You see an analyst?

WOODY ALLEN: Just for 15 years.

DIANE KEATON: Fifteen years!

WOODY ALLEN: I'm going to give him one more year and then I'm going to Lourdes.

'The... the other important joke, for me, is one that's usually attributed to Groucho Marx; but, I think it appears originally in Freud's "Wit and Its Relation to the Unconscious", and it goes like this - I'm paraphrasing - um, "I would never want to belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member." That's the key joke of my adult life, in terms of my relationships with women.'

Woody Allen is not the only celebrity to find humour in psychoanalysis, psychoanalysts and their sofas.

Dave Barry says: 'My therapist told me the way to achieve true inner peace is to finish what I start. So far today, I have finished 2 bags of M&M's and a chocolate cake. I feel better already.'

Michelle Pfeiffer says: 'Like all parents, my husband and I just do the best we can, hold our breath and hope we've set aside enough money for our kid's therapy.'

Another observes: 'A woman took her husband to the psychiatrist's because he thought he was a dog. "Why don't you sit on the couch?" the psychiatrist said when they arrived. "Oh, no" said the woman. "He's not allowed on the furniture."'

But perhaps the final word belongs to John Wayne, who didn't have much time for sofas and psychoanalysis: 'I stick to simple themes. Love. Hate. No nuances. I stay away from psychoanalyst's couch scenes. Couches are good for one thing.'

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