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Lo was enraged by all this - called me a lousy crook and worse - and I would probably have lost my temper had I not soon discovered, to my sweetest relief, that what really angered her was my depriving her not of a specific satisfaction but of a general right. I was impinging, you see, on the conventional program, the stock pastimes, the “things that are done,” the routine of youth; for there is nothing more conservative than a child, especially a girl-child, be she the most auburn and russet, the most mythopoeic nymphet in October’s orchard-haze.
(Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov)

For what reason is there root-verb be?: It seems to denote a 'concessive meaning,' but I don't get why.

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    List, I guess "be" there is not the root form, but the infinitive form without "to. And, if you believe that English has the subjunctive form, then you can think of that "be" as it were a subjunctive. – user114 May 11 '13 at 12:50
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    @Carlo I agree that it's subjunctive, and using the subjunctive in this fashion sounds poetic or literary. In this case, it has the same form as the bare infinitive "be", but I don't think the word functions as a bare infinitive. – snailcar May 11 '13 at 12:55
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    In this case, the "be she" substitutes for "whether or not she is", a hypothetical conditional. Nabokov used it for two reasons. One is that it affirms (substitutes for "even if/though she is" or "notwithstanding the fact that she is" that Lolita is "the most auburn and russet, the most mythopoeic nymphet in October’s orchard-haze"), & the other is that he knew how to use very high-level English, unlike so many contemporary writers. – user264 May 11 '13 at 13:11
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    @snail, as a not native and uncompetent speaker of the English language, I prefer to think in subjunctive terms that use of "be", but affirmed and well-known linguists say that "English doesn't have a subjunctive mood." I'm surprised to read such a statement, especially because Italian language is largely based on subjunctive mood. However I have no preference about that, that seems, at least at a first look, a matter of definitions. – user114 May 11 '13 at 13:12
  • @BillFranke, I'd fain have tried the word subjuctive if I had the certainty. Yet when I said 'concessive meaning' it contains the meaning. And you made it clear. Thank you. – Listenever May 11 '13 at 13:31
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In this case, the "be she" substitutes for "whether or not she is", a hypothetical conditional. Nabokov used it for two reasons. One is that it affirms (substitutes for "even if/though she is" or "notwithstanding the fact that she is") that Lolita is "the most auburn and russet, the most mythopoeic nymphet in October’s orchard-haze", & the other is that he knew how to use very high-level English, unlike so many contemporary writers.

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    It is interesting that when you translate "be she" in Persian word by word it completely means what you have said here! Sometimes it is not a bad idea to be a Persian native! &^)) – Persian Cat May 11 '13 at 14:50
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SUPPLEMENTARY:
Bill Franke's answer is admirable, and this is not offered as an alternative; but there's a lot of historical and technical baggage behind the question of the English “subjunctive”, so a little clarification may be in order.

At bottom it's a terminological dispute.

Subjunctive in Latin (and Greek) grammar was the traditional name for distinct inflections of the verb used in specific syntactic and semantic contexts. Since in most of these contexts the clause which the verb headed was subordinate, explicitly or implicitly, to a main clause, these forms were given a name which indicated that they “subjoined” the clause; the distinction was categorized as one of mode or ‘mood’, opposed to other moods expressed with other forms: indicative, imperative, optative, infinitive are the terms employed by Dionysius Thrax in the 2nd century BCE.

Many European languages maintain a distinctive set of forms employed similarly to Latin which it is not too far-fetched to call subjunctive. It is quite otherwise with English. In Present-Day English only one verb, be has as many as eight forms; most have only four or five; a handful have only one or two. In these circumstances the notions of subjunctive and of mood itself take on very different significance. Early (17th- and 18th-century) students were puzzled how to apply the Latin terms to English: some recognized mood as a category realized with auxiliary verbs, others denied the existence of mood altogether:

Now in English, there are no Moods, because the Verb has no Diversity of Endings, to express its Manners of signifying; but does all that by the Aid of Auxiliary or Helping Verbs which in the Latin, and some other Languages, is done by the Diversity of Terminations or Endings. – Greenwood, An Essay towards a Practical English Grammar (1711)

(Here is a fascinating study of 18th-century treatments of the subjunctive.)

Nonetheless, by the 19th century it had become usual and convenient to acknowledge a subjunctive mood in English, analogous to Latin, and to understand the specific forms elicited in subjunctive contexts as subjunctive forms. (I suspect this is because until very recently formal English grammar was taught primarily within a context of Latin literacy, and opinion gradually hardened around pedagogically useful concepts which aligned Latin and English usage.)

Over the past fifty years, however,formal grammarians have turned their backs on this approach and endeavoured to develop models and terminology specifically suited to the description of English. Consequently, there are today a number of notions of just what the English subjunctive is. For those like me and Bill Franke, who were taught in the Old Style, subjunctive is in the first instance a name for the verb forms. For some formal linguists, subjunctive is a name for the modal context which elicit those forms: these will tell you that “Although English clauses may be subjunctive, English verbs are not”. And other linguists argue that the term itself is useless; other, happier terms account quite parsimoniously for most grammatical phenomena, and subjunctive survives in contemporary linguistics mostly as a name for the use of be in contexts such as that which the current question concerns—and even there it is often deprecated.

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    +1 For giving us a free English class. No one in Iran can do such thing for me! :) – Persian Cat May 11 '13 at 17:25
  • @snailboat It is too strong, and I will fix it. My knowledge of CGEL is indirect, drawn from this and similar quotations, where it appears that P&H restrict subjunctive to this context. On the other hand, my impression is that P&H are 'Progressives' or 'Neo-Traditionalists', who preserve as much of traditional terminology as they feel can be justified. – StoneyB on hiatus May 11 '13 at 19:57
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The clause "be she the most auburn and russet ... nymphet ..." contains a subjunctive (Present Tense). The concessive meaning is shown by the subject-verb inversion. The concessive meaning is "may she be the most ravishing girl in the world (or not)".

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