I'm in the process of reading through Thomas Richardson's catalog of Catholic fiction, as far as I'm able. As his list consisted primarily of short(er) novels for young people, it's not a hugely onerous project. Alice Ismene O'Neill Daunt, the daughter of Irish politician and occasional novelist William J. O'Neill Daunt, contributed Eva; or, As the Child, So the Woman (1882), a good example of the novel-as-instruction-manual: specifically, it's an instruction manual in how to prepare for and receive one's first Communion, with fairly detailed descriptions of the retreat process and the actual celebration; later, it explains how nuns take their vows. The novel's explicitness about Communion is balanced with a more cautious reserve about other Catholic devotions, especially Continental devotions, which is par for the course in both English and Irish Catholic fiction. Thus, there's a flying mention of Margaret Mary Alacoque and a couple of references to the Sacred Heart, but no discussion of what the devotions entail; Eva's deathbed scene also includes a quick reference to the brown scapular and Sabbatine privilege, but with little explication. Attached to all of this, of course, is something doing its best to be a plot: the wealthy Eva Allington, somewhat frail daughter of an English-turned-Irish landowner, and Bessie Martin, much stronger daughter of one of her father's tenants, both take their first Communion and decide that "it would be very nice to be always with Him, belonging to Him more than other people" (43). As Eva ages, however, she falls in love with James Lowell and abandons her plan. As this is a Catholic novel, that's not a good idea, and Mr. Lowell promptly dies of injuries from a train accident right before the marriage. (That being said, Lowell's death-by-engagement is not quite as dramatic as the death of Geraldine's husband in the eponymous Geraldine [1837-39]: after finally giving in to her wish for a celibate marriage, he immediately drowns, opening the way for her to become a nun.) On his deathbed, Lowell begs Eva to wear their ring because "[y]ou will never find any one to love you as I would have done" (69), but Eva hears the voice of Christ, reminding her that "[n]o one has loved you as I have done" (69). Eva's interrupted marriage plot thus dramatizes an irreconcilable conflict between an entirely worldly eros (signified by Lowell's dying gift of jewels, intended to tie her to the irretrievable past) and a divine agape (signified by Eva's choice to become a nun and "forget [James] totally"). Pointedly, James' jewels are later counterpointed to the "beautiful jewels" of consecrated labor that the nuns will offer their "Divine Spouse" (84): the earthly lover uses his own material jewels to keep his fiancee forever fixated on himself, whereas the nuns devote their own spiritual jewels to their true husband and thus ensure their future in heaven. In temporarily choosing James, despite her vocation, Eva indulges in a form of selfishness prefigured by her relatively mild childhood thoughtlessness. Interestingly, Eva's own early death can be taken as similarly liberating Bessie, who retains her particular love for Eva well after they enter the convent together (apparently, such love results in leaving the convent, having a terrible marriage, and committing suicide).
Like a number of Catholic novels for adults, Eva simultaneously celebrates Ireland as a truly Catholic nation and points to a kind of Catholic cosmopolitanism: the true Catholic is at home in any Catholic country, irrespective of their national origin. Thus, Mr. Allington is an Englishman who becomes a Catholic by traveling to the Continent, where he converts on the example of the "daily pious lives of the Catholic population" in Tyrol (4) and is received in Rome, before finally marrying an Irish woman and relocating. It is Europe that undoes his Protestantism and Ireland that finally enshrines his Catholicism. Similarly, Eva travels extensively in France, as does Bessie later on; in Italy, they meet the Pope, who tells them that "he loved Ireland dearly, that was always so faithful to him and the Catholic faith" (76). For Eva, such spiritual tourism (although it involves churches, it's not represented as a pilgrimage) affirms, rather than undermines, Eva's and Bessie's vocations. In a way, the novel represents their own tour as a progression from Mr. Allington, who converts abroad and returns to domestic sanctity. The girls, already good Catholics, strengthen their faith abroad and return to a higher marriage. The novel thus praises Ireland as a nation in which Catholics can be fully at home, both physically and spiritually, while reminding its child readers that their earthly home is both part of a much larger international community and, at any rate, only prefigures their final home in heaven.