The narrator explains that his use of these preliminary chapters is a distinguishing feature of the book. He speculates that, as novels become more popular, more writers will take to the form of commenting on writing as they tell their stories. By using the style of the introductory essay, Fielding intends to keep his work unique, since the style will only be imitated by those writers capable of serious essay writing.
Also in chapter 1, the narrator considers the difference between romance fiction, which is purely invented, and historical fiction, which has basis in fact. He considers Tom Jones to exist somewhere between the two. The narrator sets out the necessary qualifications for a good historian (presumably including himself) as including invention, judgment, learning, conversation and a capacity of feeling.
Tom and the Man of the Hill are out walking when they hear a woman screaming. She is being attacked by a ruffian, who is identified as Northerton. He flees the scene, and Tom takes the unfortunate lady to Upton, the nearest town, to deal with the incident. Despite her clothes being torn off in the attack, she continues to flaunt her bare breasts as she refuses a coat. Tom walks in front of her, but she constantly attracts his attention as they walk along. She is identified as a slightly older woman.
The narrator asks the reader to wait for further details on the relationship between Northerton and the lady.
Tom and Partridge take the woman to an inn, where they ask the landlady to equip her with suitable clothes. The landlord and landlady, believing this to be a low-class group, insult the party until a fight ensues between them all. Partridge wrestles comically with Susan, the chambermaid. The brawl ends as a coach arrives and the proprietors of the inn return to their duties.
A sergeant and his soldiers arrive, and they recognize the distressed lady as the wife of Captain Waters, which makes her a respectable woman. She praises Tom for his help, and the landlady apologizes for her earlier behavior. Mrs. Waters dismisses the apology, but Tom calms the situation.
The narrator notes that heroes are much more mortal than divine, a statement supported by Tom’s enduring appetite. As he dines, Mrs. Waters attempts to seduce him. Tom is largely unaffected by her advances until she looks deep into his eyes and seductively drops her handkerchief. Tom's lust is enlivened by this gesture.
The sergeant reveals that Mrs. Waters is not actually married to Captain Waters, though they have lived together for a while. Further, she is well acquainted with Northerton. Partridge describes Tom to the visitors as Squire Allworthy’s heir (information he is not authorized to share), and he details their adventures with the Man of the Hill. Partridge and the landlord speculate on whether the Man of the Hill is really the devil. As they become more drunk, the sergeant upbraids the landlord for his treasonous remarks. When Partridge points out this non-sequitur, a fight ensues between the sergeant and the coachman.
The landlady discusses the young lady from the coach, whose journey will now be delayed because of the fight. Tom again grows wistful over Sophia. Mrs. Waters is undaunted by his adoration of another, and continues to pursue him.
The narrator now tells the reader about the relationship between Mrs. Waters and Northerton.
They had indeed been involved in an affair, and once Northerton escaped his imprisonment following his attack on Tom, they intended to run away. She was to finance their trip with money and a diamond ring. However, Northerton had decided to steal her property rather than take her with him. This is when Tom intervened on the attack. As he thought he was already doomed to be hanged for Tom’s murder, the attack on Mrs. Waters would not have worsened the sentence were it discovered.
The narrator cautions the reader on judging all military men by Northerton’s standards, saying most are worthy and honorable.
Fielding was aware of the originality of his introductory essays, and they have the benefit of guiding the reader through the experience of the novel as well as of outlining the direction of the narrative. There is an arrogant tone which adds to the humor of the text as a whole. By outlining the qualities that a writer of such texts should have, Fielding outlines his own skills and qualifications in formulating the work.
In addition to the thematic value of the Man on the Hill, he also advances the plot in this section. Though Tom rescues Mrs. Waters, it is the Man on the Hill who recommends the journey to Upton, and who arms the boy.
Mrs. Waters is yet another woman who tempts Tom, and whose advances he cannot refuse. However, as with Lady Bellaston, and even Molly Seagrim, it is worth noting that it is the women who make the first move. Mrs. Waters is unabashedly brazen in walking with her breasts bared as Tom escorts her to Upton, He is equally appreciative of the sight of her comely white flesh. There is humor in Mrs. Waters unleashing her full “artillery of love” upon him whilst he is mostly occupied with eating (453). Once his hunger has been sated, then Tom is drawn to indulge his sexual appetite. The metaphor of a battle is a witty one as Mrs. Waters utilizes her feminine charms as a military tactician, and she becomes, as the ladies before her, Tom’s “fair conqueror” (456). She is indifferent to Tom’s clear adoration of the fair but absent Sophia. Fielding uses the metaphor of dining to explain her acceptance of Tom’s past and future: “she could feast heartily at the table of love, without reflecting that some other already had been, or hereafter might be, feasted with the same repast” (461).
That Tom remains our hero despite his weakness for lust speaks yet again to Fielding's willingness to consider characters in total, and not simply by one moral quality.