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The following is an extract from Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. I'd like to know whether the use of "as well . . . as" is natural in current English and what it means here.

When I had arrived at this point, and had become as well acquainted with the theory and practice of natural philosophy as depended on the lessons of any of the professors at Ingolstadt, my residence there being no longer conducive to my improvements, I thought of returning to my friends and my native town, when an incident happened that protracted my stay.

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Oh yes it is very much current.

I'll get there as fast as I can

Probably said 100,000 times a day in the US.

I'm as well now as I ever was.

But the piece of prose you are asking about is difficult to parse for at least three reasons. First, it is unusual to separate the first and last "as" by so many words. The mind loses track that we are in an "as ... as" construction. Second, the whole thing is verbose. Third, "acquainted" being dependent on lessons is a somewhat odd locution. (It may have been current during the early ninteenth century, but I cannot affirm or deny that.) What is meant is "learned."

Here is the meaning

I had learned as much as I could about natural philosophy from the professors at Ingolstadt.

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  • Would the original make more sense if rewritten as "When I had arrived at this point, and had become well acquainted with as much about the theory and practice of natural philosophy as depended on the lessons of any of the professors at Ingolstadt, my residence there . . ."?
    – Apollyon
    Jun 26, 2020 at 15:49
  • I did not say that the original did not make sense. I said it was difficult to parse. Your suggested revision is clearer. I still feel that even your revision is unnecessarily verbose, but that is a stylistic opinion and thus personal.. Jun 26, 2020 at 18:23
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The "as ... as" correlative is natural and unremarkable in contemporary English.  The part that doesn't have currency is this reliance on a participial phrase.

A few reasonable paraphrasings might be:

When I . . . had become as well acquainted with [these things] as I could become from the lessons . . . . 

When I . . . had become as well acquainted with [these things] as might be derived from the lessons . . . . 

When I . . . had become as well acquainted with [these things] as relying on the lessons . . . could make me, . . . 

To a modern ear, it is odd to let a participle like "depended" carry as much semantic weight on its own as a finite predicate or even a complete clause might.

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  • The "depended" in the original is not a participle, but a regular past-tense verb.
    – Apollyon
    Jun 27, 2020 at 0:23
  • If it's finite, then what's its subject? Jun 27, 2020 at 10:52
  • "as" is a quasi-relative pronoun, in the sense that it fulfills the function of subject as well. It's like the "as" in "such knowledge as may be derived from the lessons."
    – Apollyon
    Jun 27, 2020 at 14:31
  • That this "may" is finite is a trivial discovery. That spelling must represent a finite form, and that verb is defective, lacking participles entirely. Knowledge may be derived. It's simpler to analyze that "as" as a preposition which licenses a predicate as its argument -- but even if we claim it to be a pronoun, "knowledge" is its antecedent. I have to ask again: what antecedent, what referent, can you find as the agent of a finite "depended"? I find none, as the concept involved is a depended acquaintanceship. He was acquainted as well as [ [such] could be] depended on those lessons. Jun 27, 2020 at 14:56
  • The antecedent of "as" as a quasi-relative pronoun is the state of being well acquainted with the theory and practice of natural philosophy. The extent of that state depended on the lessons of the professors.
    – Apollyon
    Jun 27, 2020 at 15:47

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